The Memorial Day hurdle has been leapt, kicking off what will be fifteen or so weeks of stiflingly hot and humid weather, and the intense afternoon thunderstorms that only a Midwesterner can understand or love. This is important, as an outdoor show on the east side of the city was being evacuated while large hail rained down. Luckily, my sights were set on a different show. Downtown. Only five or six miles away, but there the roads were dry. Everything was go at the recordBar.
In the last year, The Whiffs has swapped out one of its guitarists, written an entirely new set of songs, spent copious amounts of time in the studio, played every show it was offered, and had its debut album re-released on vinyl (by a completely different label than the initial cassette — whatever that may portend). It's been a busy year. Now the band is out on tour with La Luz, forsaking the dim basements where it is normally found, and instead performing under bright lights on raised stages. This change suits the band well. Under this limelight, the quartet played a tight, nine-song, 25-minute set that featured seven new compositions — each clocking in at under two minutes. Lead vocals on these tracks were distributed democratically between bassist Zach Campbell, rhythm guitarist Rory Cameron, and new lead guitarist Joey Rubs. Only drummer Jake Cardwell could be kept off the microphone. In the past, I've lamented the band's ramshackle performances, imaging what could be, but on this night, the early start time and stage monitors gave me that glimpse. Solid harmonies, no equipment failures, and a lot of Undertones-inspired pop. If only Cameron hadn't been too winded to sing "Dream about Judy," it might just have been the perfect set.
Thankfully, my night was already made by the opener, leaving headliner La Luz with few responsibilities — unless the band actively antagonized me, the night would end just fine. Mercifully, La Luz is not the sort to alienate, or even challenge its audience. The LA-based quartet are, in fact, terminally pleasant. The reverb-heavy guitar of Shana Cleveland is well-worn but not gimmicky. The '60s Vox organ hits of Alice Sandahl are familiar, but they stop short of being dated. The pinging Hofner bass of Lena Simon is spry, but never obtrusive. And Marian Li Pino's simple drumming never steals focus. All four members provide backing vocals, often in harmony, although only Cleveland and Sandahl provide lead vocals. With few exceptions, this combination resulted in delightfully breezy pop tunes that split the difference between surf rock and yacht rock. It was those exceptions, however, that proved most interesting. Those cuts highlighted the sultry voice of Cleveland backed by a starker, minor-key version of the band, effectively transporting the songs from the hazy beach to the dark, limitless desert — it's the same sand, but in an entirely different world. Throughout the evening, the foursome chatted amongst themselves on stage, often away from microphones, casting the audience as eavesdroppers. Only when the band returned for a two-song encore did it pointedly turn to the large audience, audibly expressing its appreciation.
After the encore, I packed my camera bag, stepped around the long lines at the merch tables, and slipped out the front door. The sidewalks were still dry. The storms had passed through, giving the city a temporary reprieve from the heat. But it will be back tomorrow, and so will the erratic thunderstorms, and neither will keep me from the next gig.