Niche Memes, Sunflowers, and Kånken Backpacks: A Night With Cuco

Last Wednesday, March 1st, I had the opportunity to travel back in time to 2017 with Cuco at the Observatory. Back in high school, Cuco was one of my favorite artists, but this was the first time I’ve gotten the chance to see him live. The show started early, and with no opener the band took the stage at 8:30.

For many, the name Cuco brings up memories of a specific aesthetic: high-waisted jeans, succulents, and the color yellow backed by dreamy bedroom pop hits. Artists like Clairo, Banes World, and Temporex are often named alongside Cuco as giants of the bedroom pop genre, defined by its warbly guitars, synth beats, and lo-fi vocals. With the release of his albums Songs4u and wannabewithu, Cuco took the indie scene by storm and garnered a large following from 2016-2018. His airy melodies mixed with lyrics on love and yearning fit perfectly with the niche aesthetics of online communities at the time. Cuco’s music was a staple of that time period, so going into the night I was excited to basque in the nostalgia of my young high school years.

Cuco’s most recent album, Fantasy Getaway, reveals a shift away from his signature lo-fi pop to a more psychedelic sound with heavier bass and defined guitar. Drawing on a clear Tame Impala influence, Cuco seemed to be excited about finding his new sound. However, his early songs remained the most popular, and they had the audience dancing the entire night. The crowd was tuned in for every song, but was sparked with energy when Cuco played hits like “Bossa No Sé”, “Lover Is a Day”, and “Dontmakemefallinlove”. He even performed his popular Spanish songs like “Piel Canela”, and the crowd went wild.

Cuco by Sofia Dell’Aquila

Throughout the show, Cuco expressed his gratitude for the amount of fans at the show, as well as the ability to play at a venue like the Observatory. However, I was surprised to see the amount of people there, and even more so that the show sold out. Cuco is no stranger to controversy, and rumors about sexual assault allegations against him and the band had circulated around the internet a couple years back, even leading one member to get kicked out. Presumably due to this, he spoke out about his journey to sobriety and his desire to be a strong role model for the audience and the Chicano community–admitting that he didn’t do a “good job” before. Nonetheless, his love for his fans was apparent, and he made sure to thank them often for attending, giving the large venue a sense of intimacy.

At around 9:30, he exited the stage and returned shortly with a roaring encore. The band jumped straight into a rendition of “Lo Que Siento”, one of Cuco’s most popular songs, and he brought out his trumpet to close the night with a romantic solo. Though it had been a while since I listened to Cuco’s music, I’m grateful to have been able to finally see him live. Reminiscing on the fond memories of youth through music is always a pleasant experience, even if I have grown out of the bands that I once loved. Cuco’s performance exceeded my expectations, and while I feel as if his time of mainstream success has expired, his music will always hold a special place in both online and physical spaces.

Entering a Psychedelic Soundscape with Inner Wave

On February 16th, Inner Wave kicked off their Jukebox Tour here in San Diego at the Observatory. Lead singer Pablo Sotelo was clearly excited to be back, even addressing some of the familiar faces in the crowd from their last tour in 2022. I became a fan of Inner Wave last year after catching them at the end of their Apoptosis Tour, so coming into the night, I had high expectations for another exceptional performance.

Unfortunately, I missed the first opener Junior Mesa but was able to catch the final half of the second opener Jordana’s set. Jordana has risen in popularity in recent years due to her collaboration with TV Girl on their album Summer’s Over. While playing songs like “Better in the Dark”, she had the entire crowd dancing and singing along to the dreamy lyrics. By the time Inner Wave was in the spotlight, the audience was coursing with anticipation.

Inner Wave by Sofia Dell’Aquila
Inner Wave by Sofia Dell’Aquila

Inner Wave has floated around the indie scene for the past few years, with some of their most popular hits being “Mushroom” and “American Spirits”. At just thirteen years old, they started playing as a group and produced their first album, III, in 2013. Since then, they’ve released four other albums and two EPs, the most recent being Apoptosis, which has garnered widespread success and has solidified itself as my personal favorite. Their extensive discography even earned them a spot at Coachella in 2022, where they shared the stage alongside a multitude of acclaimed artists. Apoptosis has brought the band high praise, allowing them to embark on a second solo tour under the same year, in addition to a mini tour with Foals. Despite slipping in and out of the mainstream over the last couple of years, with Apoptosis, it seems that Inner Wave has found confidence in their sound.

Inner Wave by Sofia Dell’Aquila

Inner Wave exploded on stage at 10:00 with one of my favorite songs, “Take 3”. The basslines and sparkling synths set the tone of the night, the entire crowd tuning in from the very start. While their studio versions have a strong sound, seeing them live is truly an unbeatable experience. Sotelo’s lo-fi vocals combined with the heavy bass plunged the audience into a psychedelic trance. The kaleidoscope of lights in the background added the perfect ambience to have the crowd buzzing under their control. 

Inner Wave by Sofia Dell’Aquila
Inner Wave by Sofia Dell’Aquila

Sotelo was interacting with fans the entire night, even cracking some jokes before diving into the songs. For this tour, they looked at setlist recommendations off Spotify and held polls for the audience of the night to choose a special song for their respective shows. In the middle of the night, they brought Jordana out for a surprise duet of their newest single “Baby”, mesmerizing the audience with their on-stage chemistry. They played various classic hits as well, such as “Schemin” and “Estrella”, which infused the crowd with a nostalgic energy. For the poll, San Diego voted for “American Spirits”, so the band combined that with the popular release “Fever” for a paramount mashup to end the main show.

For their encore, Inner Wave returned with a cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” before slipping into a freestyled rendition of “1 4 2”. By the end of the night, the crowd was left satisfied with another memorable performance that once again exceeded my expectations. Regarding the future of Inner Wave, I look forward to seeing what opportunities lie in store and how their sound will continue to evolve.  

Kickin’ The Night Off Vista-Style With Vista Kicks

Last Friday, February 10th, I had the pleasure of seeing Vista Kicks open for Southern sister-act Larkin Poe in one of their last shows ever as a band. Hailing from the small town of Roseville, Vista Kicks brings a tangy flavor to indie rock, and the contrast between their California melodies and Larkin Poe’s Southern charm blended perfectly for a great performance at the House of Blues.

Vista Kicks came out with their first EP Chasing Waves in 2016, and have since released three studio albums, their most popular being Twenty Something Nightmare, released in 2018. They have also produced a range of dynamic singles like “If I Didn’t Have You” and “Make It Real.” At the end of this month Vista Kicks is projected to release their final studio album with Hail Maries, All Hail Vista Maries. Hail Maries recently joined Vista Kicks on tour during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was definitely the right choice. The two bands together have put their own spin on modern rock by combining elements of blues and soul to refine their sound and make it unique.

Vista Kicks by Sofia Dell’Aquila

Vista Kicks took the stage at 8:00 with an explosion of romantic lyrics and structured basslines. With smiles on their faces, they performed hits like “Mona Lisa” and “Superstitions” that got people of all ages dancing. Despite being the opening act, loyal fans littered the crowd and cheered on every word, and lead singer Derek Thomas frequently called out to see who was a true V.K. fan. All eyes were on tambourine chanteuse Victoria Wymer of Hail Maries, who provided grounding vocal harmony along with her sister Makayla on guitar. Their presence on stage gave the band a 70s-esque rock n’ roll energy, reminiscent of that of pioneering psychedelic groups like the Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

Though they had a short opening set, Vista Kicks surely left a lasting impression to all in the crowd. To celebrate the upcoming release of their new album, Vista Kicks gave fans a sneak peek into what they’d be hearing by playing a new song titled “Better.” At the end of the night, they held a poll for the audience, giving them the choice between two of their most popular hits: “Twenty Something Nightmare” or “Marceline.” Diehard fans of the band roared for both, but “Marceline” prevailed, and the band jumped right in with excitement.

Vista Kicks’ final show is scheduled for February 18th in Los Angeles, though fans remain hopeful that they will make a return to the music industry in the future. It’s a shame that their run as a band is coming to an end, but their music will continue to be appreciated by fans and new listeners alike.