The 2013 single Brainwash, a sublime little piece of surf and psych-influenced indie pop, was the last time I’d really heard any major buzz from La Luz. Since then, La Luz has had an undeniably strange past few years.
Lead singer Shana Cleveland took time off to release a solo record, original bassist Abby Blackwell left the group, and a devastating car crash destroyed the band’s gear, forcing La Luz to cancel their 2013 tour. So, in more ways than one, Weirdo Shrine feels like a fitting title for the group’s sophomore LP.
Heavily influenced by surf-rock legends such as Dick Dale and The Vultures, La Luz breezed through a set that placed emphasis on showcasing their (relatively) new material. Quite often, perhaps excessively, the band is compared to the core of 50s rock acts who helped establish the classic ‘surf sound.’ And while La Luz is undeniably indebted to this era of music, very little critical attention has been paid to other artists and styles that might serve as inspiration.
Take, for example, one of the first songs of the evening, Sleep Till They Die; a slow-burner that sounds a ton like Caribou by Pixies (it’s even in the same key). In fact, unexpected traces of Pixies, and especially Kim Deal, can be found all over La Luz’s music.
The set also brought into focus just how much the group has sharpened their signature ‘noir surf’ sound; that foreboding sense of doom lurking behind the lush melodies. The band lures us in with a disarmingly beautiful four-part harmony, before bringing down the hammer with one of Cleveland’s borderline face-melting riffs, or Alice Sandahl’s Ray Manzarek-inspired keyboard fills.
La Luz seems to constantly hint at some ambiguous sense of danger, without really articulating what that danger might be. There is a distinct sense of play in their live act that complements the laid-back surf aesthetic, elevating the show to a more special place.
At times, it’s as if the band is working through a series of inside jokes onstage; inexplicably, bassist Marian Li Pino played the opening riff to With Davey on at least three distinct occasions, before leading into a different song. And Cleveland’s wonderfully half-hearted attempt to have the crowd guess how many times we heard the Super Mario Bros Theme Song during the set was, well, kinda just weird. But definitely in a good way.
* Photos by Georgia Vatcher