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Mammal brains, hipsters -- must be First Fridays

January 03, 2008|Elina Shatkin

WHAT do the bittersweet musings of singer-songwriter Alex Church have to do with elephants that communicate through seismic cues or meat-eating chimpanzees? Not much, admittedly. But the Natural History Museum is betting that its latest First Fridays series, "Discovery in the Age of Mammals: Building Brains and Making Minds," will inspire subtle cross-species connections.

"The title isn't literal," says Su Oh, the museum's manager of performing arts and exhibits. "We can't cover all animals and all evolutions of the brain, so we thought we'd focus on the things people see as distinct mammal characteristics: consciousness, reasoning and communication."

Kicking off with performances by the Church-fronted Sea Wolf, as well as the Afternoons (Church's ex-bandmates in pop quintet Irving), the 2008 series offers its characteristic hybrid of scientific discussions and hipster rock shows, a formula that serves two distinct demographics. "That's the tough part, crossing the two crowds," Oh says of the series, which includes February shows by DJ A-Trak and Kid Sister.

So what makes the concerts worth attending for those who are more academically inclined? Oh, a diehard Pixies fan from back in the day, thinks of the experience as comfort food. "I sometimes look around at shows and wonder if I'm the oldest person there," Oh says. "This is great for anyone who's older and open to new music but doesn't want to be the 50-year-old standing in the middle of the room at the Whisky."

On the flipside, what might compel an indie-pop fan to sit through a lecture on the psychobiology of love? "People will come early for the shows, peek into the lecture and end up staying. Sometimes it's standing room only by the end of the discussion," Oh says.

In fact, First Fridays have grown so popular that by the end of 2007, the 499-capacity North American Mammal Hall was filled, with other revelers exiled to the foyer. To combat the crowding and encourage audiences to explore unfamiliar aspects of the museum, Oh has added a couple of twists.

As a way to extend the performance space, the foyer that previously served as the bar area will now feature music piped in from the main hall and video projections of the live shows. And the Discovery Center, which was reopened in May 2007 after about eight months of renovation, now features a green-screen photo booth with some of the museum's most popular dioramas serving as backdrops.

"These are all cues from what we're seeing people doing naturally," Oh says. "While we're not specifically addressing the science of creativity in terms of the music, we're trying to make it [First Fridays] a complementary journey of discovery."

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Elina.Shatkin@latimes.com

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FIRST FRIDAYS

WHERE: Natural History Museum, 900 Exposition Blvd., L.A.

WHEN: First Friday of every month, through June. Tour, 5:30 p.m.; discussion, 6:30 p.m.; music, 8 p.m.

PRICE: $9 adults; $6.50 children

INFO: (213) 763-3466

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