La Victoria, every Wednesday @ Las Perlas, 107 E 6th St
by Ariel Dixon
The dancing pair holding fast to each other, cheek-to-cheek in a languid, tequila infused two-step, has not quit since the music’s start. Behind them, the streamers have begun to wilt, swaying perilously close to the flame of a birthday cake. It is Wednesday, late night, and La Victoria — guitar, guitarrón, violin, and a trio of ascendant voices — unites the room in song.
Comprised of Mary Velasco, Vaneza Calderón and Rosalie Rodriguez, the members of La Victoria do not call themselves a mariachi band. Though they often play songs of the mariachi canon, wield instruments traditional to mariachis and reinterpret songs with characteristic mariachi rhythm, La Victoria has both broader aspirations and influence. Among those are the likes of ranchera singers Lola Beltran and Lucha Villa, as well as mariachi powerhouses like Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán and Mariachi Mujer 2000. A skip-hop over a genre, and Linda Ronstadt and Lucinda Williams, too, are cited for their mastery of rock, country, and even Mexican folk. This is all to say that La Victoria mines their sound somewhere in the convergence of these multiple eras and genres — preserving the spirit of Mexican folk, the tradition of mariachi, with an infusion of the American West, and then, of course, a top-off of Angeleno style.
Such a dynamic is not lost on the Downtown scene, where similar tropes meld daily. In fact, DTLA’s resurgence as a nightlife destination has bolstered the local music scene. La Victoria’s weekly Wednesday stand begins at 10 at Las Perlas, close to 6th and Main. Though they perform from a patch of floor at the bar’s head — behind them a sign reads “We Now Serve Tacos!” — and to an audience volume often befit for a late night crowd, the band’s sound is not stymied in the slightest. The crowd is with them. They perform “La Pelea de Gallos” — something of an anthem in band member Mary Velasco’s mother’s Mexican home state — and the crowd, unrehearsed and uninstructed, cries mid-song, “¡Viva Aguascalientes!” Pairs of dancers arise and pack in close to the stage area delineated by microphones, a tip bucket and the trio. A man perched on his barstool overlooking the fray mouths along to the words, pulls from his beer, then claps loudest when the song ends. Drinks abound, but most have come tonight for the music.
One of the most intriguing parts of La Victoria’s dynamic is the ebb and flow of its three voices, backed by strong instrumentation that can flit naturally from a ballad — “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” — to a jaunty crowd pleaser that has the bar in chorus. Song by song, the trio switches vocalists. On one, Mary leads; on the next Vaneza steps forward; another and Rosalie is at the mic, violin ready at her shoulder. Each vocalization bears its own weight and tone: in Rosalie’s an unmistakable kinship with the late Selena Quintanilla-Perez, in Mary’s a timbre more traditional and Americana-imbued. Each voice is paired well with the song performed, and in their brightest moments, they trade off on a note — one voice holds a final tone, as another band member begins the same one, lifting it from her mate and beginning the next song.
Though there are challenges unique to an all female band — being considered cute in coordinated regalia — La Victoria seems undaunted. They are professionals: devoted and skilled enough to work hard in performance yet appear simultaneously effortless — convivial, even. The room’s energy is all fodder for the trio. They have transformed a Wednesday’s dour midnight into a party among friends.