ALO in Tahoe: Inner animals freed, including a Rabbit Wilde

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

The stage can’t contain Zach Gills during the rock and jam band ALO’s memorable performance Feb. 17, at the Crystal Bay Casino. ALO is on its 11th Tour D’Amour.

ALO strode onstage Friday night at the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room, opening its show with dramatic synthesizer strains suggestive of a rock opera about to unfold, replete with flashy light show – a cool entrance.

From there, the relaxed foursome morphed into a teeming musical bed of alternatively laid-back and driving guitar work, narrative keyboard forays, and its unique, upbeat style. The boys were in town for their 11th annual Tour D’Amour, where the CBC is a regular stop. (They’ll also be opening this summer for Jack Johnson at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Lake Tahoe.)

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Dave Brogan keeps ALO on track.

ALO’s signature sound of cool-jazzy-pop-rock-electronica streamed out over the smiling patrons, many of whom were clearly devoted fans, and all of whom had plenty of room to get their boogie on and shake out those snowboarding kinks. Bluesy, meandering jams stretched out and wandered until reunited by syncopated bridges, insistent solos, and just a touch of light-heartedness laced throughout to infect the ears and feet with irresistible toe tapping, danceable beats.

No wonder the band takes its full name, Animal Liberation Orchestra, not from any social-justice cause, but from the idea of liberating your inner animal. Some of the crowd took this idea wildly to heart, dressing up in versions of wild, inner, and animal: getting goofy, no holds barred, just letting it all hang out.

Funky beats met rock jams in a smooth collation of styles at some future space station, where trippy music flows in plenty alongside good vibrations. Let it flow: that’s ALO. Wah-wah pedal and keyboard crescendos flowed into drumbeats and bass lines, keeping it lithe and lit. Unwind the spine music; soft-shoe shuffling music; ALO is some kind of keep-the-faith music.

ALO’s Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz (guitar), Zach Gills (keys) and Steve Adams (bass) grew up together (playing music in the same band, says Lebo, since he was 13), and met Dave Brogan (drums) while attending college at UC Santa Barbara. The chemistry that comes from such a long-standing (fun and playful) alliance is palpable, visible, and communicable, and as such, the band certainly let it all hang out for the crowd to feel and imbibe Friday night. Lead guitarist Lebowitz, calmly in command as ever, played to the crowd with seasoned aplomb (and the occasional satisfied grin), moving through old and new numbers alike, throwing down playful riffs and introspective jams. It was clear that ALO has a good time in Tahoe, and that Tahoe loves ALO – hard not to, in both cases. The musicians laid down their syncopated grooves and lyrical passages, as the appreciative crowd jammed and shimmied their way through the lullabied night.

Rabbit Wilde on the loose in Crystal Bay Casino.

Rabbit Wilde on the loose in Crystal Bay Casino.

Ahead of ALO, early arrivals were treated to the innovative, infectious sounds of Rabbit Wilde, the opening band from Seattle, in its third appearance at CBC. Rabbit Wilde is Nathan Hamer (ukulele, mandolin, vocals, synthesizer), brother Zach Hamer (lead guitar, vocals, percussion, harmonica, bass), Miranda Zickler (vocals, banjo, rhythm guitar, accordion, piano, percussion, synthesizer) and Jillian Walker (cello, vocals, organ, bass, percussion).

Interesting backstory: the Hamer brothers — who were homeschooled — and Zickler grew up in the small Skagit Valley farming town of Mt. Vernon, Washington; but the three didn’t meet until they were all in New York City. Cellist Walker joined upon the threesome’s return to Washington. All self-taught musicians, the foursome has been making music full time for three years, with two albums and an EP to their credit (and many fine songs, showcased Friday night, planned for an upcoming third album). Both Hamer brothers and Zickler are lyricists for the band, crafting meaningful, poetic songs in a diverse combination of styles (often within the same song), drawing from rock, folk, soul, funk, blues, and electronica roots. Honestly, there isn’t really a genre Rabbit Wilde doesn’t draw on in their incredibly inventive and unique work.

Rabbit Wilde big

Vocalist Zickler draws comparisons to Of Monsters and Men’s frontwoman, Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir, with her gutsy yet tender voice and impassioned, driven performance style. The woman is relentless, a born performer; there’s something unusual in her gritty style, her wide vocal range and capacity, her incessant body waves and dancing gyrations, her rhythmic accents. Yet, there’s something classic, too, like Bessie Smith or Lady Day shining through. This is a performer to keep an eye on, along with all three of her bandmates, each of who exhibits similarly extravagant and genuinely hard-earned talents and skill.

Their brief, 45-minute set was a glorious, melodic barrage of hard-hitting folk-genre-bending songs, featuring delicious vocals and impressive showmanship from all four performers. Rabbit Wilde is undoubtedly one of the most innovative bands I’ve (perhaps ever) seen. Their combination of zany, cool antics, a narrative sensibility in their songs’ lyrics, diverse instrumentation, surprising choral structures, and unexpected arrangements makes for one amazing little band of four: truly remarkable.

The magic of a sultry, mystical convergence of lushness and acoustic wizardry are unparalleled in Rabbit Wilde’s compositions and performance. From driving country tunes to rollicking ballads and punk folk tributes, Rabbit Wilde covers all sorts of wild and eclectic terrain in its musical expedition. And we are lucky enough to be taken along for the invigorating, wild, dancing ride. From impressive yodeling on one song, and strange, swampy electric machinations on another (now sounding like Genesis, full of storytelling mystery and sweeping orchestral overtones), to fiercely focused picking, strumming guitars, the relentless, passionate fire and drive of Nathan Hamer’s 6-string ukulele, accented by Zickler’s silky, crooning voice, and Walker’s equally powerful vocals and cello leads.

Something instinctively wild infuses their playing and singing – thus, the name, “WildE,” communicating a frenzied madness, a feral fury in service to gods and goddesses of creativity. Strains of the Cowboy Junkies, Laurie Anderson, Neil Young, and other influences and elements flowed in and out of the unusually intelligent, interesting and unconventional arrangements, complemented by the deep, sinuous – then light, and upbeat – moods of the songs.

Dark and slinky, fair and sunny, this high powered, rocking, sultry band never quits, utill the very last flourish and note. From Zickler’s rhythmic command of a snare drum with a tambourine in the other hand while belting her refrain, to the band’s seamless transitions between Indie-folk to lush punk electronica (from acoustic instruments, amplified only by electronic pick-ups), and Walker’s amazing cello playing – understated, then flaring like a blond solar fire, singing and playing, equally enflamed – this band is nothing short of happily startling and inventive.

The band’s wild, frenzied playing displays real chops, and a genuine capacity for having a lot of fun. Rabbit Wilde’s live show captures what no YouTube video ever can: the fresh, stunning verve of this young foursome, their well-oiled harmonics and passionate playing, and their wide range of innovative, topical tunes. Shades of Baby Gramps come through from time to time, in a rough, gravelly, hard-pan vocal and playing style; but then next thing you know, you’re being serenaded on a slow train to somewhere completely unknown. That’s the thing with Rabbit Wilde: you never quite know where it will take you next. What a welcome, amazing adventure.

Related story: Jack Johnson, ALO booked for big outdoor show at South Shore.

-Maya Borhani

ALO plays in the packed Crystal Bay Casino on Friday, Feb. 17. Tahoe Onstage photo by Larry Sabo

ALO plays in the packed Crystal Bay Casino on Friday, Feb. 17.
Tahoe Onstage photo by Larry Sabo

Tahoe Onstage

Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz on lead guitar for ALO.

Rabbit Wilde 2 Rabbit Wilde 3 Rabbit Wilde 6

Rabbit Wilde 4 Rabbit Wilde 5

About Maya Borhani

Maya Borhani grew up rambling the forests above Carnelian Bay, where she first discovered newts, saw bear tracks and bouldered before it was a fad. When not writing or teaching (or ecstatically dancing to live music), you’ll likely find her lakeside, scrambling off trail in search of rarified quiet in the mountain air.

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