Regrettably I arrived too late to witness the first opener, Loyal Lobos, so I cannot speak them. Luckily I was still able to see Y La Bamba – an artist I’d recently discovered on Spotify’s “LatinX Indie” playlist, which allowed me to familiarize myself with headliner, Juan Son (formerly of Porter.) After a bit of delay, I entered El Rey’s doors to Y La Bamba performing their well know, “Boca Llena” (“Full Mouth”.) I was delighted to hear my favorite track being performed live and in living color. It’s a very dancey song filled with hypnotic chords and vocals that seem to be fed through the gentle trickling of a stream; even more reserved show-goers were tapping their feet or bobbing their head. Y La Bamba is a continually evolving project led by frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza that hails from Portland, OR. At the time I saw them perform it was Luz on mic, Julia Mendiolea on keyboard, and Ryan Oxford on drums. Though Luz seemed to be the conducting centrifugal force, especially during the times that the band stopped and gave her room to solo like she did with the chilling rendition of “Ojos Del Sol” (Eyes of the Sun), her fellow band mates definitely held their own. Oxford had definite dexterity and control of his sound and he donned these brilliant 70s-esque curls which seemed to have a life of their own. While Mendiolea seemed to have this pure/ethereal presence that brought to mind a singing siren. Y La Bamba brought an aesthetic sound that although was very true to the LatinX identity, had a nostalgic and ethereal quality that could be enjoyed by all.
When the lights came on, I went through a momentary panic that perhaps I’d missed Juan Son (real name Juan Carlos Pereda), who I’d been anticipating and listening to religiously on repeat. There was a lot of crowd shifting, which led me to the conclusion that while Y La Bamba and Juan Son fans overlapped, there was still somewhat of a divide in fanbase. I was not familiar with Juan Son’s previous involvement in Porter, but after a bit of research, I came to learn that he departed from this project because he was beginning to feel less inspired and more restricted. Pereda seemed to defy any of these previous inhibitions because when he entered the stage he ascended like this otherworldly entity, which felt like something from a dream. Adorned in tie-dye, silk, and deliberate paint markings, he evoked this sense of play that brought one back to the innocence of childhood. One of the first songs he performed, which has become somewhat of a personal manifesto for me at this point, “Mermaid Sashimi”, was performed in a much more low-fi way (which I think is typical of most live performances), and Pereda’s vocals seemed to carry through despite the live nature. I was really impressed with his vocal range, he seemed at times to be able to carry the tune of a bird--especially when he would whistle, I felt as though I were witnessing a part-time nature bird watcher in action. Yet despite Pereda’s performative nature, he also seemed very personal and sincere. In between songs he shared the loss of his father which occurred when he was just 10 years old, the song that followed was one from the perspective of an owl, guiding a younger Pereda. It was a very touching and I think sincere moment. And I think everyone appreciate the realness of the set, as well as its very trancy otherworldliness. Towards the end when everyone was encouraging an encore with shouts of “otra otra otra”, I heard one man say “please play another I’m still too high.” Juan was the spirit guide and we, as the audience, were his witnesses.
— Violet Ames, DJ