LA LA Land: Magic with The Maria’s
Magic with The Maria’s: smooth 70’s love funk in MOCA’s parking lot
Before I decamped to Mexico for FIMPRO at the end of May I trekked downtown to a parking lot for a concert. I like parking lot concerts – not crowded, fresh air, lots of wandering possible and sometimes good food nearby. This concert was in the parking lot belonging to MOCA/Geffen — the Geffen Museum of Contemporary Art — on the outer edge of Little Tokyo. MOCA/Geffen is actually embedded in a vast parking lot mostly dedicated to city vehicles, so with the 101 freeway looming not too far away it is a world away from the glittering museum rows on Grand Avenue and Wilshire Blvd.
A perfect place for a free concert by an elegant band? Yes, it most certainly was.
Using portable pedestrian barriers, MOCA staff had set up a spacious covered entertainment area in the parking lot and directed people to an entrance where RSVPs could be checked and wristbands applied. Inside were bars, food trucks, merch tables, a expansive stage, a pretty good sound system and a sophisticated lightening setup.
The event kicked off at 6:30 but by 5:30 there was already a line to get in and, of course, lines for the food trucks and the bar. People had already made themselves at home around the tables on the sides of the stand-up viewing area and on a raised platform with benches and arty stone seats about half way back. The weather was perfect; mid-70’s in the late afternoon, high-50’s at night.
While the weather was welcome, it was the music lineup that blew me away. I have been to many parking lot concerts, but not one with the stellar talent and production values brought together at MOCA/Geffen by Spaceland Productions. They knew their audience – millennials of all ethnic stripes, Latino families, hipsters, the downtown creative community, and dance addicts from all over the city. And they did things right: stage, lights, food, bathrooms, volunteers. It all worked.
The women of the Chulita Vinyl Club spun mostly classic 50’s rock records to set the tone for an unforgettable evening of music that ranged across categories, languages and intensities.
Things kicked off with the LA-based-via-El-Salvador music collective, Sister Mantos, with its punk rock-inflected, gay-friendly dance music amalgam of disco, funk, pop, and resistance politics. As a stunning sunset flamed the sky and the cityscape lights winked on, the mysteriously beautiful Jarina De Marco appeared magically from a swirl of smoke and candlelight for the second set.
She and her gossamer-draped dancers swept up the audience in a multi-lingual, musical vision of heaven, complete with scented candles and flowers. She used sound, light, costumes, special effects and lyrics to combine her down-to-earth empathy gained from fleeing a dictator in the Dominican Republic with her own ethereal vision of healing and love. She and her dancers conjured a mood and environment that glowed with interior energy and set a perfect stage for MOCA’s headliners, The Maria’s.
I had never seen The Maria’s before, and while I heard about the band, I knew little about them, so I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately their manager, Gil Gastelum of Cosmica Artists, spotted me and gave me a backstage pass so I could meet them. That prepared me for their presentation: the elegant black and white formality and bobbed hair of Maria and the bright red tuxedos of the band. The multiethnic crowd knew what was coming and they were densely packed against the stage barriers. It felt like the people in the now completely packed parking lot were holding their collective breath to give a cheer that would shake downtown like an earthquake when Maria arrived. (I am not sure the cheer made the Richter Scale, but it echoed around the nearby skyscrapers).
The crowd up front swayed with her, while couples far to the back swayed with each other, enthralled by the music, the lights of the buildings towering around them, the stars twinkling over the San Gabriel mountains in the distance, and the giant palms along the bordering avenues incongruously, but tastefully, lit by pick spotlights.