Concert Review + Photography: Y La Bamba at Doug Fir Lounge (Portland, Oregon)

Y La Bamba (Portland), Wild Ones (Portland), Death Songs (Portland)
August 12th, 2011
Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon

Gallery: Y La Bamba at Doug Fir Lounge

Now the Friday was quite a monumental day of firsts to the point of difficulty telling you which just might have topped them all. For instance, ever walk through packed snow in 75° weather in the middle of August? Never thought that’d happen but thanks to the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood, check that feat. Thought I’d be in Portland checking out Y La Bamba? Never thought that happen till a good friend made the recent move to Seattle. They had nearly become an ‘almost’ of something yet to be achieved as their recent tour opening for Neko Case just grazed the edge of the Midwest before a return out west. Opening the evening was Death Songs and Wild Ones, the first of all I missed but caught later in the weekend at Mississippi Studios.

Danielle Sullivan has a voice similar to Joanna Newsom, yet with a sweetness that is not overbearing both in the songs nor her presence on stage. Wild Ones plays a subtly infectious, keys-driven pop that pulls away the layered harmonies swarming music and returns it to its core. The fact Danielle and the rest of the five-piece were dancing during their own music coming from their monitors showed a comfort that is a couple steps away to how Los Campesinos! looked when they first hit Chicago with their indie pop. Your A Winner EP is out right now (iTunes). I suggest picking it up, or the t-shirt/download card combo.

Y La Bamba was the last band that truly captured my attention in music whole-heartily with its unique infusion of Mexican folk musings intertwining in American folk. With me about to head off to Paris in a short time, the odds of catching a live performance was thin to nil before the aforementioned friend and girlfriend moved out West. How’d it go in their eyes and ears? Exceptional, especially how the Portland group effortlessly switched between Spanish folk and American folk songs with not a single slip-up in their sound. In mine? The new album has a tremendous chance of topping Lupon, as Luz is embracing the traditional Mexican folk inspiration in performing more songs in Spanish that made me stop and hit repeat and repeat and repeat upon first listen.

Lupon was not as represented as you would expect, so little it felt more like a sneak peek into what’s to come once the new album is finalized. Surprising as it was the vinyl release for the album. (Luz and Ben were joking back and forth about it, with Luz eventually commenting on the lifespan of formats. Luz – “But really, nothing is forever.” Ben – “Eeeh, but vinyl is pretty close!”) Nevertheless, “November” snuck in after the opening song with a lulling musical presence that confirmed established expectations. Talented musicianship surrounding an equally wonderful voice, the kind you would expect from someone who had years of training though with an unteachable natural ease. “Ponce Pilato” then gave a taste of what I hope will be a new addition to the Y La Bamba discography. Toe tapping thanks to a constant kick drum, additional percussion and harmonious vocals between Luz and Ben Meyercord. The Sights of Sounds has a excellent session video that captured what we saw.

“Juniper” was shocking. It was reworked away from the established Lupon version. It’s sped up slightly to a walking tempo with an alternating accordion. Luz kept her soaring vocals, although chopped at some portions and drawn out as additional percussion truly added a sway to the song. Once the crowd was increasingly enchanted, the wood beamed walls of the Doug Fir soon reflected a slower tone as “Crocodile Eyes” and “Fasting in San Francisco” rounded out Lupon for the evening. “Fasting” showed the melodic play back and forth between musicians, something that has to be remarked upon. Everyone switched up, some switching to drums while others adopting percussion. Even Eric Schrepel put down the accordion to pick help Scott Magee on percussion.

Rounding out the evening was one track previously heard which will prove to be the beautiful standout of the next release, “Hughson Boys.” On the song, Luz’s voice steps back to the harmonious voices of the entire band lightly encircled by plucked, quickened guitar dancing around the notes. It’s a chorus, the kind you would hear rising above filled pews, that eventually bursts with the impassion voice of Luz arching up towards the rafters. It’s a collective song in the purest essence.

Rounding out the evening was an encore that provoked the audience into dance. How? Remember how first listens to The Decemberists‘ Castaways and Cutouts made the organ and polka beats become infectiously dance-worthy in a revivalist way? Imagine that sense but with Mexican folk, snaps and stomps with much more flare and fire.

The best musicians I have seen in concert have a knack for pure performances, often so comfortable around each other they welcome the challenge of picking up another’s instruments to rotate. Mumford & Sons did it way back in 2008. Lawrence Arms plays off that by tossing lead singing duties back and forth. And now Y La Bamba’s done it not only in sharing instruments, but also music styles that keep their distinct quality while sounding so cohesive and organic, it’s hard not to be excited for what’s to come out of Oregon.

Setlist:

Pendito (?)
November
Ponce Pilato
Juniper
Idaho
Crocodile Eyes
Fasting in San Francisco
Squawk
Hughson Boys
Michoacan
Court
Viuda

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