Y La Bamba made it out of Clear Lake, Iowa. Doesn’t make much sense, eh? A raging storm rolled across the Midwest, producing Back to the Future-esque lightning in Madison, while the Portland group was stopped over in the town where Ritchie Valens, singer of “La Bamba”, went down in a plane crash. Were they disturbed? Mildly, since on stage they claimed they made it out due to being “not famous enough” to join the halls of Valens and Holly. Granted we’re talking different genres and levels of fame, but Y La Bamba’s first national tour and their debut stop in the Twin Cities confirms that it’s only a matter of time before they hit that sweet spot.
The first national tour came following Court the Storm, the second studio album featuring Neko Case (who Y La Bamba toured with previously) on the title track. More confident than Lupon, Court the Storm embraces lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza’s heritage more so with five songs sung in Spanish, including “Michoacan,” named after her parents’ hometown. Contrary to much folk out there, the embrace of Mexican-inspired folk draws attention. Rightfully so, as early on in the evening “Ponce Pilato” quickly established newcomers not only to the multitalented musicians switching instruments generously, but a blend you’d expect to hear more down towards the Southwest than the Midwest.
Two new songs bookended “Ponce Pilato,” including “River in Drought.” The latter showcasing how the band kept developing their harmonies. “Idaho’s Genius” emphasized this growth, with the introduction leaving Ben Meyercord to his devices. The chemistry was more than just between notes, as the group would joke amongst themselves and the audience. At one point, Ben sheepishly stated, “So…we have this table. If you like what you hear, and want to hear us in your car, or your house, we have CDs and vinyl,” before Luz added, “Or you could adopt Ben.” To the crowd’s laughter, he responded nonchalantly, “It won’t be the same though. I don’t know all the parts.” So, if you do attempt to adopt members of Y La Bamba, approach it like Zaireeka and be sure you get the complete set.
Simply put, the highlight of the night was “Michoacan” and “Viuda Encabronada.” The duo placed one right after the other primed the public with Luz’s impassioned ode to her family’s hometown before Scott McGee’s percussion roiled right into the upbeat “Viuda Encabronada.” Both displayed an exuberance behind Luz’s powerful, dynamic voice that swept the crowd to the music, even to the point of shouting, cheering and dancing-something I hadn’t seen since Luísa Maita coming up from São Paulo.
Rarely do you see a performance that stirs as much as Y La Bamba’s. The Cedar had more a celebration than a concert, punctuated by one of the Pacific Northwest’s best groups in the past few years. With the new songs taking shape, hot off Court the Storm, this inaugural national tour foretells much better things to come.