The Red Alert
The Red Alert

Y La Bamba

Echo - Dec. 15, 2010

Live Review by Angel M. Baker


Portland's Y La Bamba brought the wintry watery dust of the Pacific Northwest with them to a humble Wednesday showing at Los Angeles’ cozy hipster haunt, The Echo. Clad in flannel and scarves, groups of people huddling over plastic red cups filled with deliciously cheap beer stand deep in conversations probably about holiday plans or how long their beards will grow in the new year.  The Echo tonight feels small for its indie renown and has a holiday air in that get-together-at-the-end-of-the-year way. Friends make light and in anticipation turn about-face, glued to the stage waiting for Y La Bamba’s lonesome balladeering.


At times, Y La Bamba are more like a choir than a band. The stage ranges from two to seven members across and they harmonize like they’re taking in each other’s breath. Taking lead on center stage, Luzelena Mendoza, has a tall, waif-like presence singing with her eyes half-mast and barely moving save an occasional arch of the back from the force of her bellows. Like a reed, she sways just so and looks forward into what looks like an imaginary place. Even with her cool audience disconnect, Mendoza’s vinyl like vocals bring back a huddle-around-the-radio-for-nightly-programming nostalgia. Y La Bamba dig deep and nail a Hispanic old timey renaissance that, despite the band’s clear virtuosity, feels cozy and approachable.


Whether it was designed or accidental is unclear, but the first half of Y La Bamba’s set paled in comparison to the second. This writer gets that a build up is necessary (in most things, including an art folk indie show) but tonight the build up felt like waiting. Where Y La Bamba delivers is in their haunting harmonization, when every member drops their instruments, from drums to accordion to ukulele, and gets behind Mendoza to sing their brand of granola gospel.


But know that it’s worth the wait when the wait is over. At their best, Ya La Bamba are at once hypnotizing and inspirational when they square off with the audience and sing, whisper, ooo and ahhh, and wail with floor-stomping crystal clarity. This band ushers in a new era of bohemian crunch at the same time celebrating classic Mexicana that works. Have patience – Y La Bamba have some growing to do. but they are well on their way.



Y La Bamba - Interview


More by this writer:

Les Savy Fav - Root for Ruin

The Black Keys - Brothers

Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues

Jesus Makes the Shotgun Sound - Interview