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The Allah-Las Support Science, America

  • By BC Gibson Author Avatar
  • 28 March 2013

The Allah-Las @ The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

            I’ve heard talk about a growing science gap, that America is falling behind in this important subject vis-à-vis a selection of other countries.  I’ve heard that China, for example, graduates one billion engineers every year from its universities, and that the country of South Korea has, as of this year, become a part of the internet itself.  Meanwhile, here in America we’ve yet to come to terms with the science of 1859; here we’re teaching the controversy.    

            But of course Los Angeles isn’t Kentucky, and here on the coast we are comfortable enough with the nature of things to pass a casual evening in the company of scientific knowledge.  No controversy here.  Rather, we recognize that much like a chocolate fountain, the odd science exhibit can add a touch of class to the ambiance of another event, preferably one where there is drinking and live music. 

            And this is the very niche exploited by The Natural History Museum in their First Friday concert series; through it, American science surely benefits.  Not only is the subject made “sexier” by association, the concert series also provides an injection of cash to the Museum’s austerity-touched balance sheet.  On March 1st, the Allah-Las did their part for patriotism, playing to a full house inside the Hall of North American Mammals; like a Noah‘s Arc where they’d taken two dozen animal species, and then an inordinate number of hipsters. 

          The stage had been set up in front of the bison exhibit, where a small herd of the animals were represented within their habitat, the Great Plains.  This scene occupied one end of the hall, and half a dozen others lined either length.  All of these habitats were lit, and most to mimic a sunny a day.  Accordingly, the place was brighter than the average indoor concert venue.  Then there was the ever present gaze of the taxidermy, all staring blankly towards the middle of the room.  In my case specifically, it was the North American Caribou; every time I glanced to the left, his glass eyes were there looking back at me.  Suffice it to say that from the onset, I found the setting to be mildly distracting. 

            Prior to the show, the lighting did make it easier to people watch though; so there’s that.  Besides hipsters, there were other types in the crowd who would not normally be seen at concert venue, but who were there because they found this setting more accessible.  I myself had deemed the venue appropriate for two older, museum-types: my parents.  They just happened to be in town, and I thought they might enjoy the age-appropriate setting and age-reminiscent music.  Granted, one’s parents are not the most rock & roll company for a concert, but I’ve apparently become too old to care. 

            My parents were in their early 20’s in 1966, when many of the Allah-Las forbearers were in their own musical prime.  In fact, the Allah-Las themselves have likely listened to more bands from that era than my parents ever did, as three of the four members met while working at Amoeba records, a destination for obscure sounds. That Hollywood store is very much a museum in its own right, and coincidently, concerts are sometimes also held there.  But despite their own familiarity with musical history, or maybe because of it, the band dislike being labeled as a period piece.  “Lots of people say we have a strict sixties sound,” says singer Miles Michaud. “It’s our common ground.  I don’t think we’re a throwback band, though.  That’s a term we’re kind of wary of.” 

             Other members have been quoted in a similar vein, but the comparisons are utterly unavoidable.  Surely the band have their own reasons, but if I was to guess, perhaps they fear the label as it’s been applied in contemporary music.  For some bands classified with such a term, a pleasant lo-fi sound on their recording turns out to be intelligent studio production, but when they show up at a concert they are not able to recreate their produced sound.  In this way, some bands seem to retreat to a washed out effect to make up for not being the best musicians.  Low budget and live, the truth is laid bare. 

             Similarly, the description “garage rock” also seems awkward.  That label perhaps carries an air of easy accessibility, whereby you notice all of a song’s qualities the first time you hear it.   There are no deeper layers to explore later on the 4th or 5th listen.  This is not the case with the Allah-Las.  Their music is made to illicit a similar casual feeling, but it achieves this by an attention to detail.  Their hooks and riffs don’t always strike you over the head.  Some songs catch you quickly, but with others the quality comes out more slowly.  This is certainly the case with the Allah-Las two instrumental songs; with familiarity these two turn out to be among their best. 

            They opened with one of these on the night: “Ela Negava”, Slovenian for “began anew”.  The song builds instrument by instrument, and listening I’d begun to fall into the music.  My groove was short lived however, because to my dismay, I was then presented with yet another distraction.  In the bright room I’d become aware of another attendee, standing 5 yards nearer to the stage.  An ex-girlfriend.

            There was an initial flash of recognition, where the only clear thought was, it’s her.  When the glare faded and I could think again, I wondered if she had seen me.  I watched for some seconds; seemingly she had not.  Of course she wasn’t there with her parents, but rather with some dude.  Oh perfect, I thought.  That Caribou to my left, an ex to my right, and my parents at my back; all in this brightly lit room where it was impossible not to see at least one of the three at any given time.  Fantastic. 

            In seeing my ex with someone else, I had a predictable reaction, delving into every comparison I could conceive of.  The less said about these the better, but I’ll allow myself one comment, purely observational: the guy was wearing a Hawaiian shirt.  He was the only person among several hundred wearing a Hawaiian shirt.  In pick-up parlance that’s called pea-cocking, and maybe that’s his strategy.  I’m fairly certain I’m not being biased, at all, in saying that he looked like a real jackass.          

            Happily, my situation improved slightly after the end of the first song.  At the beginning of the second, “Don‘t You Forget It”, my ex and her fella’ moved closer to the stage; at least out of sight, if not out of mind.  Then there was at least one novelty working to improve my appreciation of the evening, and of the music I had come to see.  On the other side of a knee high barrier and in the few feet between me and the caribou exhibit, a bank of monitors was arranged.  These were connected to cameras spread around the room, each giving a different perspective of the stage.  As the show progressed, the cameras were the novelty I choose to focus on, and these extra angles only further confirmed my opinion: the Allah-Las are a damn good live band.  Rather than disappoint in comparison, their live show only improves upon the sound of their recordings.  And it’s not as if their album set a low standard; far from it.  The Allah-Las simply know how to play their instruments well, and not look like tools in the process.  Happy to let their music speak for itself, their style and onstage mannerisms are subdued.  As an example, none of the band members chose to wear a Hawaiian shirt while performing.  Why?  Because they were aware of their setting; they were playing a show at a science museum, not aboard a cruise ship.  But, I digress.

            Initially, the majority of the crowd appeared to be unfamiliar with the band, but after a few songs the room had been won, and any holdouts were converted with “Tell Me What’s On Your Mind”, perhaps the band’s best track.  It’s a song that speaks about a failing romance, doomed by a lack of communication and understanding.  But while the lyrics are resigned, the tempo is resolute, like it’s time to move on and there’ll be no looking back.  “I’m not feeling quite the way I should/ once I was upset, now I feel, feel good.”  Later, on “Catamaran”, there is nothing of that resignation; all that has evaporated in the dry heat of an LA summer. 

            “Catamaran” was the first song I ever heard from the Allah-Las, and for a long time it was my favorite.  On this night though, two of the more wistful songs resonated with me: “Catalina”, and “Sandy”.  Both of these songs reek with what could have been, and The Allah Las deliver their most poignant line in “Sandy“.  “Time flies when you’re having fun, but where does it go? “  A good question that implies a better one: now that it’s gone, did that time even mean anything?  Fuck if I know.  But I guess a little nostalgia is inevitable, after seeing one’s ex.

           When the show was over, I mostly wanted to avoid seeing her, and thankfully she and the shirt lingered for a while near the stage.  At the same time, part of me wanted an awkward acknowledgement, because that part was feeling pretty good about the resulting comparison, at least in shirt-terms.  This was a small part though; most of me knew better.  Talking to her might be fun, but talking about her afterward with my parents would probably not be so fun.  “So what happened with that girl?  Are we ever going to have any grandkids?”  Etc.  I did have to drive them home, after all.  

            In the foyer, we were herded away from the bones of a dinosaur and off into a side hall, lest someone be tempted to make a dash for the skeleton, just for shits and giggles; this detour took us past the gift shop.  “No time for souvenirs“, I told my mother.