If you ever need even more proof that Los Angeles is more than its glittery and/or augmented parts, take your (San Franciscan?) friends to First Fridays: the first weekend of every month, sans summers, a couple hundred of L.A.'s smartest and most stylish hipsters take over the halls of the Natural History Museum to enjoy well-curated music, globally-conscious scientific discussions, and, ultimately, collapse into fits of belligerence amongst some non-judgemental dinosaurs. This past Friday, Angelenos bitter about the lack of chillwave at Coachella caught a curious performance by super-hyped Denton, Texas-based Neon Indian, who are neither fluorescent, Native American, nor a singular entity (at least while touring).
Neon Indian is just Alan Palomo, an attractive, curly-haired Mexican-American dude whose debut album, Psychic Chasms, remains all the buzz in the blogosphere, even a summer after the release of its boppin' chillwave anthem, “Deadbeat Summer.” And in order to reproduce a live rendition of all that sun-drenched, mix-tape nostalgia the album conjures up, Alan brings along some friends from his other project, VEGA.
Let me preface any opinion with this: writing about electronic music without sounding like a prick, is hard. I've yet to see an act that effortlessly transforms a clean album into a live carbon copy, and that's fine – maybe it's not even the goal. But there's something to be said for the effort, and I'm a little heartbroken that the low-key, lo-fi charm of Psychic Chasms got lost in heavily-distorted translation.
But it wasn't all bad, at all. Even though he's really more producer than seductive frontman, Alan, in some sort of leather motocross jacket, is thoroughly entertaining. He juggles a magical routine throughout his set, alternating between recreating video game soundtracks at the keys, fiddling with a tangled mess of vocal distortion, and fiercely popping his shoulder as some sort of homage to Michael Jackson's dance moves.
Alan's friends include a really adorable brunette Madonna circa “Like a Virgin,” complete with breathy backing vocals, enthused hand-clapping, red lips, and black gloves at the keys, as well as a long-haired dude shredding his own little lcd soundsystem (a guitar with what looked like an iPad attached to it), and Kurt Cobain on drums, adding some punch to the music.
But chillwave isn't about punch or kick. Maybe that's what really gets lost in translation: chillwave, glo-fi, whatever taxonomic rank you choose to give it, is not meant to rock. At least in easily-digestible, blog-worthy mp3 form, chillwave should, as its name subtly implies, chill. That Alan and friends want to rock makes sense, as they're young and excited, and a live show almost always yields a louder sound. But I'm hoping the static noise they created was more a result of poor sound than musical direction. I just really wanted the vocals emphasized, and everything else turned way down. All that said, I really did have fun, and particularly enjoyed the band's choice in neon, acid-washed projections during “Should Have Taken Acid with You.”
After Neon Indian finished up, Peanut Butter Wolf came out to provide a respectable DJ set. But by the time the Texans finished unraveling their web of electronics, most of the audience had already cleared out in favor of exploring the museum. With the hall maybe a quarter full, PBW tried his hardest to get people moving to vintage hip hop and soul beats — but no luck. In his defense, he was playing against lust-inducing sparkling gems, a giant whale skeleton, and some pretty neat Incan relics (these are exhibits, not up-and-coming band names.)
While wandering through those magical halls, I'm not sure how many times I overheard “Ohmygod I can't believe I'm drinking in a museum.” I kept waiting to get written up by some grouchy ghost of an Honors Biology teacher, but even when my Ivy League-educated friends spilled beer on the gorgeous marble flooring of the American Mammals exhibit, and then the African, and then very nearly all over a tasteful display of Grizzly Bear taxidermy — still, no detention. Not even a phone call home to my parents. Despite a slightly disappointing set from one of my favorite bands of the past year, this last First Friday was, as always, a whole lot of fun – but the night could really have been made better via cocktails featuring pre-historic puns. Hey Natural History Museum, can I get a T-Rex on the Beach in the Fall?