In the gentrified crannies of major cities, concerts are often more about the hype behind the performer’s brand name than the actual experience itself, making the path to success especially daunting for underground musicians who haven’t had help from the corporate generators of the music industry. “Free Monday night residency at the the Bootleg Bar” is not exactly a title that evokes images of quality and inspiration straight away, however, last Monday served as a reminder roomful of hip locals that sometimes the talent bubbling underneath the radar is excruciatingly rich. In Alina Bea’s short time as an independent solo artist, she has already put forth several expertly crafted singles and equally gripping visual counterparts via the Internet and blogosphere, but her presence as an artist was fully realized in a live performance that permanently raised the bar for all bar performances in the city of Los Angeles.
The night began with a solo set Devin Hoff, a virtuosic upright bass player, and in direct support was Nia Andrews, another lone performer whose vocal and songwriting abilities swept the crowd just the way the headliner would minutes later. Andrews’ voice alone is already cause for any talent scout in the area to regret missing this night of music. Finally, entering the stage in the kind of ensemble and hairstyle that might be expected in a retrofuturist sci-fi series, Alina’s star power emerges without warning. Within seconds, she’s belting high notes and dancing with that same signature slither that can be seen in her official video for “Live Undone” (watch it below). Behind her is a four-piece backing band, and a projection of animated grids and patterns that solidify the sci-fi aesthetic. The music is largely synth-based, yet maintains its organic textures through Bea’s serene vocals and her guitarist’s Greenwood-esque live experimentation. St. Vincent comparisons flew among the audience members, though this sound seems to draw from all fearless females of the avant-garde realm at once, and it becomes its own. This became clear during a vicious cover of Bjork’s “Army of Me” that shook the room, and also reminded us of the utter courage it takes to bring the theatrical excitement and emotion that Bea makes appear so natural.
In the final act of the set, a four-piece string ensemble with violin, viola, cello and double bass entered stage right to accompany the final few songs, complete with transcriptions on music stands. How such an addition was achieved for such an intimate performance remains unknown, and performers must always take caution with ideas that may prove to be too ambitious, but the quartet delivered every bit of power that one could have hoped for. As they slashed away at the hypnotic chorus motif of an original song most had never even heard, the question of “How?” legitimately came over the mesmerized audience. These are musicians who know their art form, and manage to engage an crowd even if none the songs are radio-familiar (yet).
Any witness of Bea’s performance during her Monday night residency should feel a sharp tinge of guilt for having acquired such inspiration free of charge. They must also remember that her music and live show certainly won’t be underground for much longer, because Alina Bea has the rare potential to become one of this city’s landmark artists before the end of the decade.
Words: Jamie Lawlor