A Very, Very Happy Night at the Wonder with La Luz

Vortex Music Magazine

The quartet of Seattle surf rockers engendered a rambunctious Portland audience with their equally lively performance at the Wonder Ballroom on August 8. Photos by Sam Gehrke

Lips pursed and eyes focused: La Luz's Shana Cleveland at the Wonder Ballroom on Saturday, August 8—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Sam GehrkeLips pursed and eyes focused: La Luz's Shana Cleveland at the Wonder Ballroom on Saturday, August 8—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Sam Gehrke

Seattle-based quartet La Luz are an eclectic blend of dualities and contradictions. Consisting of guitarist Shana Cleveland, keyboardista Alice Sandahl, bassist Lena Simon and drummer Marian Li Pino, the band is all at once enigmatic and personable while sonically pleasant and abrasive, meshing into a perfect storm of various genres that changes from one song to the next.

Simply put, La Luz is a chameleon, tapping the sounds of dreamy psych, surf rock and 1950’s doo-wop melodies. It’s a combination that shouldn’t work, but the group manages to pull it off beautifully. All four members contribute to the vocals, creating an intertwining wall of ethereal sound against a backdrop of reverb-heavy, Dick Dale-style guitar riffs and clean, steadily played drum breaks. One minute you’ll be listening to a soaring, noir-ish ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Tarantino movie, and the next you’ll be thrown into a churning, double-time cut of rapid basslines and piercing vocals complimented by the amazing static-laden guitar solos of Cleveland.

Riding high off of the release of their latest album Weirdo Shrine a day earlier (watch the video for the lead track at the end of this article), La Luz proved to be just as contradictive and strange (in a good way) live as they are in the studio. Each member shrugged onto the Wonder Ballroom stage, looking slightly awkward and timid. Cleveland smiled widely before speaking with a sheepish charm into the microphone, welcoming the crowd and introducing her bandmates. With the first note played, the group’s demeanor changed entirely. Cleveland’s eyes focused straight ahead as she ripped into the first song, lips pursing into an aggressive snarl as she hunched low over her guitar. This extreme, perfectionist focus spread into the poise of every member, sitting in stark contrast to the four women who had walked onstage just moments earlier.

La Luz supports your right to dance onstage with them—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Sam GehrkeLa Luz supports your right to dance onstage with them—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Sam Gehrke

The audience fed off the energy, and the concert quickly transformed from a relatively passive affair to a writhing mass of crowdsurfing, pseudo-mosh pits and an actual Soul Train-style dance line midway through the set. Two fans jumped onstage, standing back to back with Cleveland and Simon while furiously dancing to the music. At this point, the band took another 180 in attitude. Without losing focus or missing a beat, Cleveland turned to the fans and grinned, waving away security and laughing hysterically as the two girls from the audience dived offstage back into the crowd.

La Luz supports your stage diving habit—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Sam GehrkeLa Luz supports your stage diving habit—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Sam Gehrke

In this moment, it became apparent that the overall character of each member was just as unpredictable and intense as the music they made, providing a genuine sense of heart and soul exuding from every song they played. As the set wrapped up and the night came to a close, they thanked everyone for coming and shuffled slowly off the stage, just as approachable and regular as when they had walked on—except this time with an air of modest confidence that they had just destroyed their set, and made a whole ton of people very, very happy.

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