LA/LA Land: Magic with The Marias: smooth 70’s love funk in MOCA’s parking lot.

Features La/La Land

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, an 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 vison 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 Marias.

I had never seen The Marias 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).

For those of you who may not  have heard of The Marias, you soon will as they ae on a national tour which will take them coast to coast.  Their music is hypnotic: 70’s-style, high gloss, sonically sensual love songs with a bit of funk thrown in. But the emphasis is on romance – dreamy, beautiful, storybook romance (they will even send you love letters if you leave your email address at their website). Vocalist and Atlanta native Maria Zardoya looked like she just stepped out of  a sexy version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in brilliant white silk slacks that emphasize her long legs, shiny black dinner jacket with white cuffs and oversized white lapels over a black silk bra-top, accented by jeweled earrings and of course, the perfectly cut bob. Her body writhed and swayed as the band’s smooth, jazzy melodies and muted rhythms swirled around her ethereal voice.

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.

The Marias took us through a full setlist of 11 songs, including the popular Basta Ya and Superclean with audience sing-along encouraged by the band.  Afterwards, professional photographers from MOCA and the media lined Maria and the band up for pictures against a large container set up to hold stage equipment. The band stood off to one side while Maria joined the crowd and graciously posed, hugged, air-kissed and grinned with the mostly female devotees while the cellphones and minicams clicked.   No wonder people love this band so much. And no wonder I love parking lot concerts.

Patrick O’Heffernan

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