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Oohlas-la!

Thursday, 5:17 p.m.: Christmas is over, and the Godfather of Soul is dead. I take a walk to lift some post-holiday blues and encounter the late James Brown’s Walk of Fame star, which is littered with candles, wilting flowers and a few handwritten love notes. A small throng of strangers give each other pursed-lipped looks of condolence as I reverently tiptoe past. But as I reach the end of the block, I turn around just in time to catch the mourners breaking out in song, prompting a sudden sidewalk memorial dance party, equally bizarre and touching. Their voices are distant, but judging by body language, it is clear they are singing “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine.”

Friday, 11:43p.m.:Olivia Stone, front woman for The Oohlas, is doing a chicken dance at The Echo. In red tights and short shorts, she leads the L.A.-based pop outfit with a wide grin, strutting and hopping as she launches into a narrative song about buying a $2 pet chicken in Chinatown. As they wrap up their upbeat, sugary set, Stone grabs the mike, sternly gestures toward the merch table and issues the command “Buy-our-shit-cuz-we’re-broke-I-love you!” before hopping off stage. It’s not a night at the symphony, but as an onlooker next to me drunkenly swoons: “How could you not be in love with her, right?”

Saturday night, 12:05 a.m.: I have just slid down a skate ramp on my face, in front of a few hundred people. I’m in the bowels of downtown L.A., inside a barely lit warehouse/art space foggy with secondhand smoke. Installation pieces and slapdash paintings line the walls, and an indoor half-pipe holds court at the far end of the narrow space. As the party’s headliners, psychedelic blues trio Entrance, set up their equipment in the basin of the ramp, a few cohorts and I scale its steep sides for a better view. As if in a middle-school nightmare, I experience aforementioned public pratfall, which will haunt me for days. However, upon singer/guitarist Guy Blakeslee’s first dirty retro notes, my battle against gravity is justified. His breathy vocals are peppered with desperate wailing, and bassist Paz Lenchantin (ex–A Perfect Circle), turning her back to the crowd, slaps her strings with an open palm to set heavy rhythms. Sitting a few feet above drummer Derek James, we get an aerial view of astoundingly impressive percussive vengeance. The room collectively sways in stony unity through the set, which reaches an epic end with waifish Blakeslee pounding his guitar against the floor like a madman. After it shatters and splinters into pieces, a friend turns to me breathlessly and says: “I totally thought we were going to get nailed with that! It was awesome.”

Sunday, 4:43 p.m.: It’s New Year’s Eve. I’m reflecting on the passing year during a serene solo hike through the Hollywood Hills, reaching the top of a steep grade to gaze down at the sprawl of the city. I take a deep, meditative breath. Then my phone hits a sweet spot of reception, and four text messages from various cohorts come through, asking for advice on where to get hammered.

Sunday, 10:43 p.m.: Making what may be the idiot choice of the decade, I turn down a free ticket to Cat Power, Gnarls Barkley and headliners the Flaming Lips. Repeated open-palmed slapping of the forehead does little to quell the regret. But as midnight nears, and I’m huddled around the TV with my favorite comrades, hoisting whiskeys up in an orgy of New Year’s toasts, it occurs to me that, yes: There is more to life than watching bands. There is hope, and love, and friendship . . . and whiskey.


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