underground since'89

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

La Luz live at Northern

Last night I left the coziness of my apartment - where I was happily reading Who I Am by Pete Townshend - to venture across downtown to catch a new girl group from Seattle called La Luz. They are a little hyped already and friends were sort of skeptical about them, the way people get when anything is hyped.

I looked them up and found their music to be pretty great sounding - a nice mix of surf guitar, reminiscent of Shadowy Men from a Shadowy Planet, and contemporary girl group singing that references Frankie Rose, Dum Dum Girls, Coasting, Vivian Girls, Best Coast, Bleached - what some call femme pop. It's arguable whether or not any of those groups should be put into the same category but I do sort of do that in my head. I think they all reference 60's girl groups as filtered through The Ramones and The Jesus and Mary Chain/ C86 but adding a very modern version of a 60's reverb/often digital lo-fi sound to the mix. (Of course each group I listed is different and genre is mostly arbitrary/problematic so keep in mind that all these bands can also be put into different categories with other groups that may or may not share their gender based on different aspects of their sound.)

Live La Luz was a bit awkward. They are solid musicians but seem the type who read music and may not have a lot of experience letting loose in a rock-n-roll group. Or something. I guess I would put them in the pop realm actually. More like The Fleetwoods or Jan and Dean than The Stooges or Velvet Underground. They were very clean-cut and wholesome in their image. I don't know if that is a conscious decision or not but it is something I noticed in their presentation. Because women are so often judged by our appearance I am hesitant to even bring up their use of style, but playing a show and being in a band, you do have a visual presentation component at work that is there whether you discuss it or not. Watching their show I couldn't really figure them out! They seem like "formalists" to me, which is kind of an indie thing where people are interested in working in a certain form or genre and exploring the formalistic elements of songwriting.

Before I went to see them I read an interview with them that rubbed me the wrong way. They made a remark about how they think they are better musicians than most girls in bands. They did pay lip service to the idea that being new to an instrument creates a rawness that you may not be able to achieve as you become a better player, but the remark still stung and hung in the air. I know what it's like to be in a new group and I know how interviews go but one thing to be aware of when you are a girl in a band is to try not to say anything in an interview that will give the reporter an opportunity to feed into sexist stereotypes about girls in bands. Essentially they gave the magazine a chance to reinforce the stereotype that girls can't play their instruments. If you are going to talk about musicianship, why talk about it in terms of gender at all? Also, it is a mistake to think that playing in a certain 'musician-y' style is somehow more difficult than another style. Playing a lot of notes for me is actually easier than playing just a few for example. But when I play too many notes people notice that I am a good drummer. However, I am often not serving the song or the group when I do that. Often what the song needs is just some simple beats on the floor tom. But then, I am into repetition and minimalism as an aesthetic choice.

After they were done playing I noticed my friends had left without saying goodbye. The same friends who had talked me into leaving my cozy apartment to join them at the show! I received a message on my phone explaining that the band was "Hallmark, blah blah blah". I don't know what that means exactly but maybe it's a reference to their visual presentation. The music was nice. I liked it a lot. I thought the drummer played too many notes but they compensated for this nicely with their vocal lines, which reminded me of Neu or Stereolab. Wavering between a few drawn out notes, the vocals achieve a nice droning affect. Harmonizing drove the tension through the song the way the drums normally do in rock-n-roll. The bass player used her fingers and was understated and solid. They had a new keyboard player who sang well, this was her first show with the group. The drummer seemed the most comfortable being on stage. Her drum set sounded fantastic, nicely tuned and played with the finesse of someone who has had lessons or played in high school jazz band. The singer/guitarist made an effort to rock out and smile and I enjoyed her warmth and graciousness towards the audience. She said this was their first show outside Olympia. They played a long set.

I don't know if I would go see them again but I will probably listen to their tape for years. I guess that sounding nice is enough to get me to listen but maybe not enough to get me to go to a show. I am left wondering what it means to be in a band in 2013. At the very least it is nice to see a group of young women collaborating together on a fully realized musical project.


Rebecca said...

Hey! I'm sure it's not something you intended, since you made the "hate to talk about appearance" quote and you bring up so many other awesome feminist talking points, but my lord did you get hung up way too much on what they look like.

I also read the Seattle Weekly article and think that you inferred a lot of meaning from it that just ain't there. I just wish we women gave one another the benefit of the doubt more often. And stopped talking about appearances. La Luz is to clean cut what Cheez-Whiz is to fine dining. It seems like you're running them through whatever preconceived notions you have of "rock". I think they stand well on their own.

Also, you know who was rather mod and clean cut? The Velvet Underground.

Tobi Vail said...

Yeah, I know, it's hard to talk about appearance without feeding into the double standard that women ALWAYS have to think about our appearance in the world and how that is tied to oppression

Then again on the other side of things - a show is a show - it's a visual presentation - and so I think when you review a show you take that into consideration.

I guess I could just NOT talk about visuals of a band when they happen to be all-female, but that leaves out a really big part of the information I'm getting as I watch them.

I mean, I'm also from another generation, so there is a generation gap at work, but part of what I got from the show is the feeling that they were clean cut and wholesome and that was kind of confusing and interesting to me, so I mentioned it in the review.

What I got from the interview is what I got from the interview. Perhaps I was reading between the lines but it was something I wanted to talk about because my reaction to reading that interview was a big part of what I experienced as I was watching them play.

As for 'mod and clean cut' - the mod credo is clean living under difficult circumstances but I consider real mods to be pretty scruffy, actually. Ripped up suits held together with safety pins is more my speed, Comet Gain style. And I wouldn't call VU wholesome or clean. They are quite dirty in my opinion.

When I wrote the review it was for a friend who couldn't make it to the show and instead of sending it to her as an email I decided to publish it on jigsaw because I wanted to share the sound of their music, which is beautiful and haunting.

There is this thing in underground music culture where a feminist isn't allowed to critique another feminists work because somehow that is perceived as not being supportive. Jigsaw disagrees with this idea. That is why we exist.

Thanks for your comment.



Erika Meyer said...

When you are in a band what you look like on stage is important regardless of gender.