All words: Paula Mejia
On Tuesday, the lingering days of popsicle-filled summer afternoons made a momentary return at the Rock n Roll Hotel, with Nick Waterhouse and Allah-Las’ deliciously coastal double bill. The two L.A.-dwelling bands brought their echoing, retro-laden sound to a foggy DC evening, with enough groovin’ and shakin’ to make you think that it was actually 1962 and not 2012.
Very little separation lies between the two bands. Both Allah-Las and Waterhouse record at a cult-acclaimed distillery nestled somewhere in Costa Mesa, California, a venue entirely fitting for the two’s affinity for crackling vinyl and keen production.
The Allah-Las took the stage promptly at 8:35, kicking off their set with the melancholy “Catalina,” with melodic guitarlines painting a sand-covered scene. The quartet breezed through nearly the entirety of their eponymous debut, which dropped two weeks ago via Innovative Leisure, along with labelmate with Nick Waterhouse. With breezy, echoing vocals, the tracks translated flawlessly from the record live, from the captivating “Catamaran” to the sundrenched split with Nick Waterhouse, “Don’t You Forget It.”
The strongest track from the set (although it’s tough to pick) was single “Tell Me What’s On Your Mind,” the psychedelic pop number from their self-titled debut. The melodies, irresistibly bubbly and warming, made the audience shake and groove amidst fuzzy, reverbed guitars. So much so, that a team of enthusiastic audience members transformed into synchronized dancers at the front of the stage, grooving to maracas, tambourines and electric guitars. The night’s headliner Nick Waterhouse joined the four onstage for the final number, providing the soulful keys on “Long Journey.”
I thought the night couldn’t possibly become more funky, until Nick Waterhouse and his house band, The Tarots, took the stage. A tenor sax, baritone sax, two vocalists, a guitarist, a pianist, bass man and drummer, that is. Immediately, the already grooving vibe inside of the Rock n Roll Hotel got much bluesier. The band kicked off with the finger-snapping number “If You Want Trouble” from Waterhouse’s album Time’s All Gone, inciting hip-shaking all around that permeated the entire show, delving afterward into a sultry, R&B-infused cover of fellow band Allah-Las’ “Don’t You Forget It.”
Clad in a sharp black polo, pressed gray pants and a matching suit jacket, complete with wide-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses, Nick Waterhouse seems displaced from a different era of penny loafers and drugstore floats. What’s more, Waterhouse’s versatile voice — at once honey-sweet and prone to impressive, almost James Brown-esque yelps, sounds almost preternatural, as though directly plucked from an old 45 you found stashed in a dusty box in your grandparents’ basement.
The Tarots themselves were marvelously talented, especially with vocalists belting out soul jams in a manner not unlike Aretha Franklin’s. The multi-instrumental group shifted from instrument to instrument with an incredible ease and remarkable finesse, highlighted by the pianist taking on the trumpet and Waterhouse shaking up the mix by implementing electric guitar amidst his melodic yelps. Waterhouse and his band operated with a jazz-band aesthetic — not just impeccably dressed, but also with each member having several solos on their respective instruments and ample opportunities to shine under Rock n Roll’s stage lights, with tracks alternating from sax-heavy to piano- laden.
What made the night so special wasn’t even the insanely impressive instrumentation, or Waterhouse’s disarmingly rich pipes. It was the ability for a performance to feel familial, almost like a gathering between friends or family instead of a concert. The often-staunch barrier that exists between performers and audience members completely shattered. Strangers danced together, and young and old folks alike toe-tapped along to the entire set.
A celebration of sounds, both distant and familar, the band also celebrated the wedding anniversary of a couple who chose to take their anniversary night to the show, as well as singer Miles Michaud from the Allah-Las’ birthday. For the final track, the Allah-Las joined Waterhouse and The Tarots onstage for a fitting final number, The Valentinos’ “It’s All Over Now.”
The two bands, jiving together with a new family under an east coast roof, undoubtedly embody all things California, sure. But if they stayed here in the district forever, we sure wouldn’t mind.