Luna Li Popped Even More Outside of the Bedroom in Toronto

The Axis Club, April 29


Photo: Chris Gee

BY Ian GormelyPublished Apr 30, 2022

Luna Li might be the bedroom pop torch singer no one knew we needed. Drawing a straight line between bedroom pop's pillowy intimacy and the lushness of '70s pop and R&B, Li — the musical alter ego of Hannah Bussiere Kim — made a strong case at her first big hometown gig, singing melodramatic songs about heartbreak and devotion.

Fellow Torontonian GRAE opened the showcasing songs from her recently released Whiplash album. Opening with "Boxes," she and her two bandmates added some rough rock edges to her slick alt-pop. Starting with bass, GRAE traded instruments regularly, and seemed equally at home shredding guitar as she did banging a tambourine adorned with Prince's love symbol. Her hushed vocals were at times overpowered, but by the time they got to "Out of this World," they had the receptive audience clapping along.

After spinning a mix of modern indie rock (Mitski) and '90s R&B (Destiny's Child) between sets, Li's three-piece backing band hit the stage to the push-pull of Monica and Brandy's "The Boy is Mine." Li soon followed, donning her guitar and a smile that didn't leave her face for the entirety of her hour-long set. Opening tune "Alone but Not Lonely" set the tone, its mantra for Li's creation myth: alone in her apartment crafting beautiful music for a growing legion of fans, many of whom she was finally meeting IRL.

Despite her sudden notoriety, Li was a natural in the spotlight, moving across the stage with like a seasoned professional, keeping the crowd hanging on every word. She is, of course, more than a singer. A musical polymath, she soon traded her guitar for violin, which was greeted with whoops from the audience. 

In between songs from recent debut album Duality, the four-piece unit delivered selections from her instrumental Jams EP that gave Li her first burst of online fame. The stop-start nature of these passages — each track on the EP barely scrapes the minute mark — killed a bit of the show's momentum, but the tracks themselves are too good to go unperformed. A mid-set costume change and a move to her harp slowed things down, but didn't dull the energy, which was given a major boost as confetti rained down during "Silver into Rain."

"We've played so many of these songs in the shittiest basements and the wackest venues to two people. Now we're here in front of 500 people," said Li, keenly aware of the moment she was in. She capped off the evening with a two-song encore, finally exiting the stage for good after a blistering "Cherry Pit."

Much of the press around her debut rightly focused on Li's feelings of being an outsider in Toronto's predominantly white male-dominated indie scene. For this night — and likely many more like it — she was finally on the inside looking out.

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