The Verse’s Lorenzo Ottone tells us what he thought of the brilliant Allah Las gig at The Haunt on the 21st October.
Usually, bands bringing back 60s sounds are the top bill of Sunday afternoon pubs. This is not the case of Allah Las, whose personal and unique latin and psych-flavoured take on West Coast jingle-jangling garage-beat made them a cult band even far from their hometown of Los Angeles.
A change of venue – from Patterns to The Haunt – was needed in the afternoon due to the persistent ticket request for a show that sold out way back in September. Expectations are high, the venue is packed and the crowd is buzzing with an enthusiasm rarely seen before for a sunshine pop act in a city which favours dark and fuzzy heavy-psych sounds.
The night opens with a DJ set by painter and Allah Las’ graphic genius Robbie Simon, here on behalf of Reverberation Radio, the weekly podcast started by the bands’ singer Miles Michaud which has since grown into a ten-host music show. The vinyl-only selection shifts from 60s international sunshine-pop to uptempo R’n’B, escalating in soul-disco moods which splendidly warm the crowd up.
Allah Las silently take the stage, kicking the gig off with the latin jazzy instrumental Ferus Gallery which achieves the goal of transporting everyone in the middle of a spaghetti western canyon ride. Jingle-jangling Had It All and fuzzy tongue-twister 501-415 follow, with first album favourite Busman’s Holiday setting the electrified crowd definitely on fire.
Going on with debut LP’s strongholds would have made a stage invasion inevitable. But, the band is proud of their year-long efforts and opts for a long trip through latest work Calico Review which proves brilliant in the impact with a live performance, though its more reflective and slow-paced mood. Sung by bassist Spencer Dunham, single Famous Phone Figure – of which its lyrics cynically refer to those girls who build an image of fame around them on social networks, actually resulting in an objectification of themselves – sets probably the only meditative moment seeming to come out from Love’s masterpiece Forever Changes.
The Bob Dylan-on-acid Could Be You, the bitter 200 South La Brea and Roadside Memorial – delivered with a nearly afro-beat drumming – are splendid postcards of a West Coast suspended between summer sunset and autumn dawn.
Calico Review tracks leave space for the instrumental Sacred Sands – on which guitarists Pedrum Siadatian’s long fingers create those jingle-jangling solos that make Allah Las’ sound so unique – and Sandy, in which the initial refrain is turned into a sing-along by the audience anticipating Miles Michaud’s voice; an unexpected cult-status for a minor song you’d only expect for arena-sized gigs. And the most incredible thing is that the audience is dancing, instead of staring and the stage and blinding the artist with their phones’ flash; exactly like they would have done 50 years ago.
The gig started with a band slightly low in spirit grows song after song and lifts to a superior level when it comes to cover The Human Expression’s psych nugget Calm Me Down, here delivered with a garage-punk Seeds-y approach. Is crowd-favourite Catamaran to close the performance, before an acclaimed encore. Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind) is sung word-by-word by a mesmerised audience, before an on-fire version of Every Girl with singer Miles Michaud dancing with a tambourine as the best 1965 Mick Jagger.
Without a doubt, Allah Las are one of the best bands seen on stage. Aside one critique whereby they sound much too similar to studio recordings, they go beyond playing music by evoking atmospheres and implicit cross-cultural references, from Texas and Sunset Strip teen-bands, Cal Tjader’s hip latin jazz and Frank Lloyd Wright architectures for ivy Americans to Sergio Leone’s films, Mirò and Calder paintings. Their skilfulness is certainly one of their main strength, with each member singing and switching instruments throughout a gig. Their 60s-inspired sound and attire (drummer Matthew Correia’s ’68 Côte D’azur playboy look struck a chord with me) then makes the rest. Instead of straight up copying it, they carry it off with effortless aplomb, because, as DJ Robbie Simon states before the gig: “The best songs of the 1960s have already been written. What’s the point in trying to do that again?”