Seattle-based quartet La Luz lent a glow to the Biltmore Cabaret on a gloomy Friday evening with their warm, woozy “surf noir” vibes and their playful presence. While rainy Vancouver skies might appear at odds with surf music, they seemed appropriate for La Luz’s slightly cinematic, darker take on a sunny genre. With their latest album Weirdo Shrine coming on the heels of a near-fatal tour van accident, La Luz’s minor key doo-wop harmonies and often foreboding lyrics show a willingness to explore the shadows in addition to the light. This is not to say that La Luz play a downcast live show – quite the opposite: they know how to throw a party, and by the end of the night had audience members dancing on stage with them. It is precisely this beautifully reconciled dichotomy that makes La Luz so appealing.
Lo-fi Vancouver band Knife Pleats opened the evening with their surf-y, driving pop, followed by Sad Sick World, a Seattle noise/punk-pop band with a thoughtful, charming stage presence.
When some technical difficulties arose towards the beginning of La Luz’s hour-long set, lead guitarist and vocalist Shannon Cleveland handled the situation with humour and assurance, setting the tone for the remainder of the evening. Other band members cheerfully joined in as well – organist / vocalist Alice Sandahl freestyled lyrics at one point over rhythms provided by drummer Marion Li Pino and bassist Lena Simon, to buy some time while technicalities were dealt with. Despite the minor complications, La Luz delivered a thoroughly enjoyable, tight set to the packed, appreciative, mostly young crowd.
Standout songs from Weirdo Shrine included the slow simmer of “Sleep Till They Die,” with its shimmering harmonies; “With Davey,” a punchy yet misty-eyed song with snaking guitar; and “I’ll Be True,” which carries spooky, ghostly vocals and disarmingly naïve lyrics (“I’ll be true to you/ just as long as you want me to”). La Luz took the energy up a notch with “I Wanna Be Alone (With You)” where frenetic rhythms and slightly angry guitar underscored Cleveland’s languid vocals to interesting effect. From their older albums, “Sure As Spring” and “Call Me In The Day” were also favourites.
Throughout the set Cleveland projected a casual confidence on lead guitar and vocals, Simon played intuitive bass, and Sandahl brought a joyful presence even while playing eerie organ solos. Li Pino was particularly impressive on drums, playing rolling, tight rhythms complemented by washy, vintage sounding cymbals. The four women perform with a playful unity. Their songs rarely last over two minutes, but when La Luz occasionally allow themselves more space, they shine, locked into groove together; it would be nice to see La Luz jam out a little more in their live shows. After all, their songs — featuring minor chords, slightly fuzzed guitar solos, and beautiful beachy harmonies — do not always sound entirely dissimilar from one another. But this is not necessarily a bad thing, for they melt together into a cohesively hazy, hauntingly blissed-out set. La Luz deliver saturated sounds — burnt oranges, reds, tinged more with the dark grey of the Seattle skyline than the pastel blues of a beach vacation. Or if La Luz are on that beach vacation, there’s a storm on the horizon, and they’re watching with unhurried appreciation from the shore as it rolls in.
Sleep Till They Die
Don’t Wanna Be Anywhere
I’ll Be True
Clear Night Sky
You Can Never Know
I Wanna Be Alone (With You)
Big Bad Blood
Sure As Spring
Call Me In The Day