Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Whenever I walk into the basement of First Unitarian Church, I feel like I’m attending a 1970’s middle school prom—maybe it’s all the wood paneling and Canadian tuxedos. When the friend I was waiting for finally arrived, wading through the crowd armed with a can of PBR in one hand and a vape pen in the other, she complained I was difficult to pick out—“It was like Where’s Waldo, everyone here looks like you.”
Seventeen-year-old old Hana Vu [pictured, above] falls into the batch of indie artists that self-produce via Soundcloud and Bandcamp. The LA-based songwriter only recently signed to Fat Possum label Luminelle Recordings, and dropped her debut EP last spring. She gained visibility after a collaboration with Willow Smith and has spent the last few months touring with SALES. Vu embodies a moodiness not only in the new wave grooves of her music, but in her artistic persona. She sings with an eye-rolling deadpan, and sports an impassive scowl in every photo. Onstage at the Church she brought an unexpected intensity, commanding the small room with her robust, soulful vocals over rolling drum beats and twinkling synths.
After a brief interlude, enter No Vacation, led by Sabrina Mai. “So it’s Sunday, and we’re at church,” she noted, tuning the strings of her pastel pink guitar. Their set, composed of upbeat surf pop tracks, amplified the energy in the room. They played some throwbacks like the sweetly nostalgic “August” and melodic, bopping “Beach Bummer,” as well as some new songs off their post-hiatus EP cheekily dubbed Intermission, including poignantly melancholic lead single “Yam Yam.” The set culminated in Mai crowd-surfing, held aloft by sweaty and grinning fans.
By the time SALES took the stage the room was sweltering. “We’re from Florida and we’ve never been hot like this in our whole lives,” singer Lauren Morgan joked. The three-piece radiated a lowkey vibe, their music nestling into the vein of cozy, minimalist bedroom pop. “We’re independent and self-managed and we love every minute of it,” guitarist Jordan Shih commented in introducing tracks off latest album forever & ever. Morgan’s voice is unique, breathy and dream-like over jazzy fretwork and a staccato drum beat. The crowd freaked out for classics like “Renee” and “Getting It On,” chanting lyrics in unison. For “Ivy,” the room was lit up with waving iPhone lights.
“There’s a lot of people here tonight and I’m nervous. I heard Philly’s a tough town,” Morgan admitted. Any of that nervousness evaporated during “White Jeans,” which broke down into an impromptu dance party. SALES closed with the buoyant “Chinese New Year,” a song that felt more like a beginning than ending. — MARIAH HALL