Published Jan 13, 2014Having ventured all the way from Montreal, the Luyas came in full force on this evening. The five-piece band, six if you count Joe Westerlund from Califone playing the odd bit of shaker and percussion, moved around between synths, French horn, slide guitar, and glockenspiel, while Mark "Bucky" Wheaton held it down on drums. In addition to her singing duties, Jessie Stein moved from Wurlitzer to electric guitar and moodswinger (electric zither), though it was her performance of "Channeling," from the band's second, Polaris Prize long-listed album Animator, sang with just a glass of red wine in her hand, that proved to be one of her most memorable moments.
The Luyas have a rather disconnected, suburban indie-pop sound on their recordings, but they fostered warm vibes live. Stein smiled and talked nice between songs, beckoning the crowd closer so as to jokingly save them from earning a reputation for being far away, and telling the story of the last time she played in Vancouver, when her uncle got drunk and danced hilariously at the Cobalt.
Their overall performance was solid. Stein's voice has a wispy, childlike quality to it, which made it occasionally difficult to discern when things got loud, but the band had good dynamics and energy, allowing space for her delicate vocals to come through remarkably. They did their studio recordings proud.
Chicago's Califone contrasted the composed pop of the Luyas with their progressive experimental-rock and alt-country jams, ramping up like the initial rumblings of a prairie thunderstorm before exploding in a fury of beats and twangy riffs. With principal singer/guitarist Tim Rutili flanked by two drummers and a seated bassist/keyboardist, they occasional got lost in the desert, but consistently found their way back to the groovy oasis.
As a frontperson, Rutili was a decidedly more downplayed than Stein, with a rather disheveled look and a weary, hangdog expression that suited his delivery. He kept his banter brief but friendly, humorously blaming the false start for "Moses" on a bad hair day, and providing poignancy as he pondered if anyone is in control of anything ever, a potent question considering that, at the same moment, someone was desperately trying to shush the typically talkative crowd.
Rutili played his four guitars on the loose side in his quest for emotive expression, something he clearly found on tracks like the mostly acoustic "Movie Music Kills a Kiss," "The Orchids," and the title track from Califone's most recent album, Stitches, during which Stein joined them onstage to help sing. Stein also helped to bring "Bells Break Arms" and, near the end of their set, "A Thin Skin of Bullfight Dust" to life. Stein had helped out with the Stitches album, and this was the last of five West Coast tour dates together, so the camaraderie between Califone and the Luyas was palpable. This probably won't be the last time they're seen together.