From California to Ethiopia with Allah-Las and the Budos Band


If you could handpick its most redeeming qualities and inhabitants from any time period in the past half century, Los Angeles could actually be a rather magical place. Pluck the psychedelic guitar strains reverberating through Laurel Canyon, scoop a fistful of bronzed sun-kissed surfers and sparkling waves from the coast, add two shakes of downtown weirdness, and you'd likely come up with something along the lines of Allah-Las, the quartet that opened for Budos Band during the Noise Pop lineup at the Independent Thursday.

Sporting a bolo tie and an acoustic guitar, lead singer Miles Michaud ran the band through a tight set of exhaustively pleasant, twist-worthy folk-adelia – with the kind of echoing vocals that shoot you back to a simpler time of black-and-white TV rock'n'roll. Perhaps behind those smiling, hair shaking acts of Ed Sullivan yore, a secret hallucinatory tab or barbiturate ran through the blood streams; if you could somehow bring those mysteries pumping through warm veins to the surface, you could get the Allah-Las set. Likewise, it could have replaced Strawberry Alarm Clock in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, had any of its members been alive at the time.

Maybe most of the 20/30-something, casually hippie crowd was not there for these openers (or the other opening acts), because they seemed mostly stoic – and this sound pleaded for shaking, at least a few hip-swivels. Something. 

And from this vintage California boardwalk postcard of a band, we were flown around the world to Ethiopian jazz-via-Staten-Island. The instrumental Budos Band headlined the night and crushed its set – after an abnormally boiling, sticky half-hour wait that left a nearby fan audibly exasperated, and a trail of cool sweat down my back.

The 10-13-piece – counted nine on stage last night – Afro-funk band sauntered out with brassy swagger, clasping large horns (sax, trumpet), traditional vestiges of rock'n'roll (guitar, bass), and plenty of African percussion, amidst a hovering cloud of herbal smoke. Never have I seen such a charismatic baritone saxophonist as Jared Tankel, taking control of the stage with his impressive horn and skill, a maestro of groove, eliciting excitement from the audience by pumping one arm up when freed from the keys.

(The below video was not shot at the Indy, but in Washington a few days earlier)

With an instrumental set, the mind naturally wanders, and with this one, it brought me to Bill Murray. Specifically, the downtrodden, graying Murray driving around listening to Ethiopian jazz artist Mulatu Astatke in Broken Flowers. Though I see Budos Band too as perfect driving music, the audience moved far more for during this round, hooting and hollering, shifting and swaying to the consistent beat, laid down by bongos, congas, tambourine, clave, and West African shekere.

The walls were dripping with sweat by the end of it all, and though it was not the transnational journey I'd conjured, the few hour brain-vacation boded well.


All photos by Chris Stevens.

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