Ever have them dreams where you were born in another era? Or are maybe transported back there like Marty McFly in Back To The Future?
I have a couple; in one I’m born in 1960 so that I’m just hitting my formative years as a late teenager at the height of punk. I’m at THAT Sex Pistols gig at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and end up going on to have a successful musical career as a member of Joy Division and then New Order.
In another version of these time travel dreams, I’m transported as a youth to 1960s California. I don’t know why but something in my deep subconscious seems to quite like this idea as it’s this one I have quite regularly. Maybe it’s summat to do with the sun, surfing, the beaches, bikini clad women, the desert, hippies, drugs, the ‘summer of love’… I dunno.
Last June, I chanced upon a poster for the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, and being a bit of a geek, jumped online to seek out a few of the bands on the line up that I hadn’t heard of, in the hope of finding something half decent. I’m 33 now, and despite access to music being easier than ever before, I don’t pick up on half as much new stuff/get to as many gigs as I used to. I guess life/family/kids etc just get in the way.
One of the bands listed on that poster was Allah-Las. I found their debut album on YouTube and hit play. Within seconds, the opening line of Catamaran had transported me to the sixties California of my dreams – “Out on the water, where you’re gonna find me…” – I was surfing off Malibu, VW camper parked up on the sands.
Latin/Classical Jazz drums beats overladen with fuzzy basslines, reverb heavy guitar riffs and vocals sung in an American drawl. I was hooked. I’ve seen many terms to describe Allah-Las sound; Psychedelic, Garage Rock, Surf Rock, Retro, but the best/most fitting description was coined by Faulkner on twitter (@JCLFAULKNER) when he (and forgive me, I’m paraphrasing) labelled them as “the band Tarantino would have had to soundtrack his films, if he’d had a house band…” He was spot on; both the music/lyrics/vocals scream Tarantino and possibly ‘No Country for Old Men’ Coen Brothers.
The Tarantino link is an interesting one – both Quentin and the four members of the Allah-Las are from Los Angeles. QT in his late teens (after dropping out of high school and then acting school) took a job working in a video rental store, and has since cited this as massively influential in his directing/screenwriting career. He was basically getting paid to spend his days watching and discussing films.
Similarly, 3 of the band worked together at the Sunset Boulevard shop of famous West Coast independent chain, Amoeba Music. It’s hard not to believe that just like Tarantino soaking up the cinematic classics all day that would go on to influence his filmography, the same was happening over at Amoeba with Pedrum Siadatian (lead guitar), Spencer Dunham (bass) and Matthew Correia (percussion). Old school friend, Miles Michaud was recruited on vocals and the line up was complete. (Michaud himself has stated that he’d also applied to work at Amoeba, several times, only to be rejected – “another surfer? We’ve already got too many.”)
Basement practice sessions honed their sound – a melting pot of surf guitar, with elements of funk, jazz, a tinge of Latin, and a nod to the ‘British Invasion’ bands of the sixties; The Beatles, The Kinks and most notably, The Rolling Stones. More than a hint of nostalgia but never sounding like a clichéd pastiche.
Lyrically their two albums make references to the topography of The Golden State; water, rivers, beaches, sand, desert and canyons, interspersing these into songs mainly about women or girls and love/relationships. The chase and the excitement of finding love; or the pain of lost love and ill feeling of a failed love. Their eponymous debut album quickly moves from Catamaran’s Beatles-esque “I wanna whisper to your ear, I wanna hold your hand” to Don’t You Forget It’s threats of “I think I’ve found the girl to replace you…”, before meandering through songs about travel in foreign lands, more women and plotting a murder.
All of which could be condensed musical versions of films in their own right.
Where the first album is very much of the coast, second album, Worship The Sun, has moved inland, to the deserts, canyons and mountain trails, and picks up right where the first album left off. More of the same without repeating themselves; the jangly guitar riffs and drawled vocals return, and the harmonised backing vocal “aaahs” and “ooohs” continue to layer throughout. More chasing women, and pining for women long gone, reflecting on the past without wishing to return. Better Than Mine tells the tale of advice received at the hands of a bar-fly, not too dissimilar I imagine to Bukowski’s alter-ego Henry Chinaski. This second album is more cryptic lyrically, less obvious, showing that they’re maturing as a band – more time spent together touring clearly improving their craft.
Fast forward nine months and its June 2015; a few weeks ago, a Wednesday night and I’ve got a ticket to a gig at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. I’ve never been to the Brudenell before but on arrival I’m delighted to find it is exactly as described – a social club. Try to imagine a cross between Brian Potter’s Phoenix Club and Chatsworth estates’ The Jockey, located tucked between terraced streets in Kirkstall; a mostly student populated area on the outskirts of the city. A small room to the right that looks like its hosted many a darts and doms night, and to the left a large function room on two levels with a stage in one corner, reminiscent of somewhere The Blues Brothers might’ve played behind the safety of a cage.
The band amble onstage at 9.30pm, looking effortlessly cool in denim jackets and heeled boots; guitarist Siadatian cutting a shape that could easily be mistaken for Richard Ashcroft in the dimmed lights and smoke. From the opening chords of Busman’s Holiday they have the crowd in the palms of their hands, mesmerised, captivated. The setlist a mix of songs old and new, some unheard before to these ears, they rattle through Follow Me Down, Buffalo Nickel and Sandy, however these early tunes are slightly beset with problems emanating from the sound desk (the overall sound is a little ‘tinny’ and the vocals are too low in the mix.) It doesn’t seem to affect their mood or that of the crowd and we are treated to a new song; Trifecta – another in the mould of their vintage tone.
Halfway through, a note perfect version of Sacred Sands, a standout track from the debut album, (despite being a 3 minute plus instrumental) is destined to become a highlight of the night. Catalina follows then the Pedrum sung 501-415, before what seems like untypical louder/angrier/faster paced new tune, which later turns out to be a cover version of The Human Expression’s Calm Me Down. The gig continues apace with Better Than Mine, Autumn Dawn (another poissible new one?), Artifact before closing the set with first album opener Catamaran. This one is particularly well received, the swaying hordes singing along to every word.
A short break and Michaud et al return to open the encore with No Werewolf – a cover of an original 50s/60s Seattle rock and roll band The Frantics. Long Journey sees singer Miles take his place behind the drumkit, allowing the drummer to take centre stage for vocal duties, holding four maracas and looking like a cross between Bez and Steve McQueen; the story of the songs’ protagonist seeking a “love that’ll stay” before plotting a murder and going on the run drifts into the air from Correia’s mouth. Returning to their natural positions for final song of the night, Every Girl, it’d be wrong not to mention the USA’s most famous surf rock export, The Beach Boys. Every Girl is a modern reverse twist on California Girls – where Wilson & Co spent their time wishing “they were all California girls”, the Las set closer’s chorus simply opines “oh yeah, they’re all… Every Girl’s the one for me…” (not fussy it seems although I suspect all those named throughout the verses are probably native Californians.)
They leave the stage to a rapturous applause and as the crowd pour out into the still light Yorkshire night, for the last hour at least you’d be forgiven for thinking you were anywhere but a social club on an estate in a northern city.
Not content with the sun-drenched melodies of one night, I’d arranged to make the journey across the Pennines the following night as the tour continued at Gorilla in Manchester. Meeting up with some of Twitter’s finest (Faulkner, Mooresy, Meebles and a few others) on Whitworth Street, we had a quick pint or two whilst observing some frankly atrocious haircuts, including a ‘Wellend’ that Bruce Gorrie would’ve laughed/winced at. Piling into a sold out Gorilla round the corner, the venue was an uncompromising sweat box, with a stage at one end, and small seating area up high at the back above the bar and a crowd rammed in with barely space to move down below.
The setlist is pretty much the same as last night, save for Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind) thrown in early on, and No Werewolf left out of the encore after a snapped guitar string means a few minutes wasted due to running repairs. Another night of early sound issues for the first 4 or 5 songs, but tonight the crowd less tolerant and I notice a number of angry glances shot towards the mixing desk high up behind us. This time it’s the bass that’s too heavy, but after a bit of knob twiddling it’s evened out and the band hit their stride. Maybe it’s the sound issues, maybe it’s the venue, maybe it’s that everyone is packed in close and it’s hotter than a freshly baked pie but the crowd don’t seem as active tonight as at the Brudenell… It doesn’t stop Faulkner jiving away at the side of me throughout, however. At the end of the night, feeling quite privileged that we’d managed to catch them twice in as many nights; we both remarked that this tour might be the one that is looked back upon fondly, in an “I was there” sense.
The impression is that Allah-Las are only a hit single and a bit of decent radio play away from bigger things.
Allah-Las live experience is certainly not to be missed if given half a chance, and all in all, both albums are the perfect soundtrack to a long drive and a lazy day on the beach. Such is the power of music to open your mind and help escape the grind of daily life/drift away, I can put it on, close my eyes and I’m there, sixties’ California – on the beach with a board, a bong and a beautiful girl…
Allah-Las albums can (probably) be found in your local independent record store or if you like your music free* then in the usual internet places. (* pay for it, you tight arse!)
Not just content with making beautiful sunshine melodies, Allah-Las also put out a weekly radio show/podcast – Reverberation Radio – which is also worth a listen.
Speaking of podcasts, the recently started “The Pie At Night” recently recorded their 3rd episode which can be found on on iTunes: here or on Soundcloud:
This article originally appeared in the free Mudhutter Football Express Summer Special , July 2015.