It isn’t often that an opening act warrants attention apart from who they are supporting, but this was certainly the case when The Marías took the stage before Albert Hammond Jr. this past Monday, April 2nd. Nostalgia is one of the immediate reactions to the band’s music and image: the cover photo for their debut EP Superclean, Vol. I is front-woman María’s legs, highlighted by flash as they rest upon red velvet-upholstered theatre seats faded with the dim haze of Hollywood’s golden years. Their music draws from old-school funk, soul and psychedelia, but instead of wallowing in all this 60’s/70’s reminiscence as they easily could, the group coats their tunes in a distinctly modern sheen with María’s sometimes-Spanish lyrics and drummer Josh Conway’s sleek production.
Lead vocalist María does indeed have a last name, but leaves it offstage as many icons have before her. Any aloofness this move might imply, however, was immediately eliminated by her humble stage presence and an outfit that could have been as much her everyday style as performance-ready getup. Matching the colours of the EP album artwork, the flowing white fabric of satin palazzo pants breezily followed María’s rhythmic swaying, paired with a matching bandeau concealed by a scarlet matador-inspired jacket. The rest of the band loosely coordinated their outfits to match this palette, with tones of red, black, and white tying up their aesthetic into one clean, focused package.
The pulsing beat of “I Like It,” the first song of the set, helped introduced the crowd to the band’s polished sound. María traded and shared vocals with Conway, their soothing croons blending for an effect reminiscent of a Serge Gainsbourg duet. After this warm-up, María’s vocals came into focus, bringing in the chilled-out groove of “Only in My Dreams.” The synchronized strums of (Canadian-born) Josh Conway’s bass foundation and Jesse Perlman’s glossy guitar overcoat combined to access the space between wakefulness and dreaming, a strange balance which could be the band’s brand.
The synth squiggles in the background of “Superclean,” contributed by Edward James, were followed by an affectionate version of J-Lo’s “Cariño” and an unreleased song: “Ruthless.” The second of these was accompanied by a surprise appearance from Busty & the Bass trumpeter Scott Bevins, who added a crowd-pleasing jazzy texture that would return later during “Basta Ya.” Before his reappearance, the band kept up the brass-fueled energy by playing personal favourite “I Don’t Know You.” Conway propelled the tune forward with a funky bass-line tempered by straightforward chords from Perlman to again achieve the group’s soporific-yet-snappy signature. Before their closing song, The Marías paid tribute to their influences with another cover, this time of Teena Marie’s “Lovergirl,” keeping all the soul of the original while replacing some of its 80’s glare with their own sound.
After kindly giving Albert Hammond Jr. a second shoutout, María referenced her Puerto-Rican roots one last time with “Déjate Llevar” for a more up-tempo finish. Though The Marías make great use of guitar, they are not initially an intuitive complement to Albert Hammond Jr.’s frenetic riff-laden energy. Watching their set, however, it became clear that their appeal is a subtler and no less remarkable kind of gravity, sizzling just below the surface like their deceptively catchy music.
While addressing the audience at one point during the set, María confessed to the audience that it was the band’s first time in Canada. It might already be clear by virtue of their role supporting a former Stroke, but something about the Marías’ quiet confidence and refined image tells me that it won’t be their last.
~review by Dylan Lai