Live Review: Nick Waterhouse, Allah-Las in Indianapolis on 9/29

Nick Waterhouse

Two stellar Californian newcomers, Nick Waterhouse & His Tarots and Allah-Las, brought an old-fashioned rock and roll party to White Rabbit Cabaret in Indianapolis on Saturday night to the fullest enjoyment of the near-capacity crowd. Both acts released tremendous debut records within the past six months, and both albums were produced by the old soul, analog production genius of Waterhouse.

Waterhouse & His Tarots (a backing five-piece of sax, bass, trombone, keys, drums and commanding female vocals) bring a sound that is meticulously crafted to sonic superiority, but their truest excellence resides in presenting the performance as off-the-cuff, spirited rhythm and blues. Waterhouse is an exceptionally gifted producer, and his ear for detail and analog perfection is damn impressive. The amount of thought behind every interaction and every note of set highlights like “Raina,” “(If) You Want Trouble,” and “Say I Wanna Know” was unmistakable, but it’s also an afterthought when you are in the audience. Watching Waterhouse & His Tarots perform, it’s impossible not to be aware of the work ethic and skill level inherent in the band’s compositions, but their crowd engagement, zest and deep, deep soul allows the party to take precedence while the levers turning the screws behind the curtain are only made evident once you pause to study the notes and the interplay between the instruments. Every beat, saxophone blow, Yamaha melody, howl from Waterhouse and wonderfully sultry delivery from Erin Jo Harris (refer to “Teardrop Will Follow You,” “Say I Wanna Know,” and “I Can Only Give You Everything”) is an exquisitely veiled work of toil and consummate skill, but the band doesn’t draw attention to the technical excellence; they let the songs do the talking.

During the performance, Waterhouse addressed the music being a labor of love when he called for a round of applause for openers Allah-Las. He mentioned seeing the band playing in a club in Los Angeles two years prior, when he had the notion of putting something worthwhile together on his own terms. As the story goes, Waterhouse found an oasis in the Costa Mesa studio known as the Distillery, his self-released 45 of “Some Place” reached a passionate cult following with hip Bay Area DJs, and he befriended fellow young musicians (i.e. Allah-Las) with an unwavering love for music from times that predate the digital medium and Pro Tools recording. Waterhouse described this national tour as the fruits of two years of hard work and dedication.

Nick Waterhouse Live

Nick Waterhouse & His Tarots

Front-and-center in a blazer, dress slacks, loafers sans socks, and a buttoned-up, long-sleeved polo, Waterhouse’s vintage preferences on record and in person are pronounced. Behind black-rimmed glasses, a boyish smile, and humble discourse, Nick Waterhouse is impossible not to like in person. That he and his tremendous band play energetic, classic-sounding rhythm and blues songs bubbling over the brim with heart and passionate soul, you can’t help but rooting for the guy to win unmitigated success in an age of soulless pop and ironic fashion. Waterhouse’s choices in soul, classic fashions, and analog sounds are not ironic, and he is not posturing. This is a way of life for Waterhouse, and we’d all be better off following his lead and dancing along like the Indy crowd did at White Rabbit for the entirety of his set.

As bouncy and ready to dance as the Indianapolis crowd was for the hour of Waterhouse & His Tarots’ performance, that wasn’t quite the case from the get-go of the night, and that’s a damn shame. Allah-Las are a Los Angeles foursome with a truly great ’60s-garage sound influenced by the likes of The Zombies, The Ventures, The Byrds and The Rolling Stones, as well as ‘80s counterparts of the Paisley Underground. The band just released (out Sept. 18) an outstanding full-length debut LP that flat-out delivers with songs that are as strong as those of the influences they wear on their Californian sleeves.

Up front, Allah-Las’ set included “Busman’s Holiday,” “Catalina,” and “Ela Navega,” songs that are addictive and loveable on record; but, even though the delicious surf-guitar stylings and warmth of Allah-Las’ songs sounded as accomplished live as on the album, something was missing in the air at the outset. I’d argue the absence in the atmosphere was not the fault of Allah-Las. Instead, I would say the lack of energy stemmed from a bit of early passivity on behalf of the crowd in attendance.

During the first half of the set, roughly two-thirds of the White Rabbit audience were seated, clustered near the adjacent bar, or huddled towards the back of the venue behind the tables and seated crowd. The majority of the immediate floorspace in the twenty feet between stage and the center seats was completely vacant. The atmosphere in which Allah-Las color the record – warm hues, California sunshine, breaking waves, and spinning wheels towards distant horizons – is intoxicating, but you won’t catch the buzz if you don’t engage. Part of this miscommunication rests with the band too; sometimes, audiences need a shove in the right direction or a helping hand to usher them into the mix, and that obligation falls on the shoulders of the artist as performers.

Thankfully, Allah-Las acknowledged the missing particle in the atmosphere and extended a rope to the audience before too long. After five songs, drummer Matthew Correia welcomed the audience to come closer and enjoy themselves. Within seconds, the floor in front of the stage was packed, and much of the crowd was out of their seats. The entire energy of the set changed for the best without a single aspect of musicianship or songwriting varying. The rock and roll energy and the crowd’s readiness to loosen up and move were palpable almost immediately. By the time Nick Waterhouse joined Allah-Las for the final stretch of songs, the set was a full-blown party befitting of the performance to come from Waterhouse and His Tarots. Album highlights like “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind),” ”Don’t You Forget It,” and outstanding set closer “Long Journey” turned into an old-fashioned rock and roll shindig brought to life by Pedrum Siadatian’s guitar riffs on par with classics of Keith Richards and a confident, tight delivery from Allah-Las as a whole.

Nick Waterhouse Live 2

Nick Waterhouse & The Tarots, Allah-Las tag-team "It's All Over Now"

When all was said and done, the bill of Nick Waterhouse & His Tarots and Allah-Las turned into a blissfully endearing night of old-school rock and roll heavy on spirited rhythm and blues. If their debut records and Saturday night’s White Rabbit performances by the two acts are indicative of the times ahead, both Nick Waterhouse and Allah-Las are on the verge of something big. These guys are taking time-honored sounds and using their own voices to bring something new to a music scene that would be senseless not to welcome them. When Waterhouse invited Allah-Las to join the Tarots on stage in the encore for a tag-team blast through The Rolling Stones’ ’64 classic “It’s All Over Now,” it was both a rousing end to the night and a triumphant statement of what these acts wish to achieve. The crowd and the bands were dancing and singing in unison, having unabashed fun singing a great rock and roll song that sounds as vital and perfect as it did when it was recorded nearly a half-century ago. That’s a key takeaway when you pick up Time’s All Gone or Allah-Las or see these guys live: sometimes, the best things never go out of style. If you learn from the best, use your own voice, and do it with heart, you can be more sustainable and light years ahead of whatever is trendy or the status quo.


Tour Dates for Nick Waterhouse & His Tarots:

10/2 – Washington, DC – RocknRoll Hotel
10/3 – Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brendas
10/4 – Boston, MA – Great Scott
10/6 – NYC – Bowery Ballroom
10/8 – Toronto, Canada – Great Hall
10/10 – Chicago – Lincoln Hall
10/11 – Minneapolis – Fine Line
10/14 – Seattle, WA – Neumo’s
10/15 – Bellingham, WA – Wild Buffalo
10/16 – Vancouver, Canada – Biltmore
10/17 – Portland, OR – Star Theater
10/20 – San Francisco, CA – Bimbo’s
* All dates with Allah-Las

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