I could go on at length trying to explicate the force of nature that is Yva Las Vegass, just as I could try to lasso a tornado or play fetch with a rabid dog, but she does a pretty good job herself in the opening moments of this album: YVA LAS VEGASS, she announces, no time for verbs or adjectives.
A VENEZUELAN-BORN SEATTLE NATIVE. A MOTHER FUCKER.
And how much weight that word carries, how many meanings! A mother fucker, yeah, and let me count the ways: she's a mother fucker of a singer, a mother fucker of a songwriter and a dead-sick mother fucker of a cuatro player. She's reckless, outspoken, a brawler, on both the giving and receiving end of black eyes, split lips, broken hearts and blown minds, so that kind of mother fucker too, as in one badass; there's a sexual connotation as well, and a cosmic one: to be a mother fucker is to give everything, and take no shit.
Yva has been giving everything since she first picked up a guitar in the early 90s and headed out to busk in the streets of Seattle. Over the last twenty years she's gotten beat up for her music, been homeless and a drug addict, suffered heart attacks mid-set, starred in a full-length documentary film and played all over the world and she still rages harder than ever. That said, this record is no blast of harsh noise. It's an often-gorgeous collection of tender ballads, raucous cuatro workouts, soul-purging epics like Crack Whore and traditional Venezuelan work-songs, a raw and astonishing distillation of Yva's vast and varied life-experiences.
Born in 1963 in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela to a musical, middle-class family, Yva earned a ticket to boarding school in the states as a result of teen rebelliousness—which suited her fine. “I'd just seen Porky's, so I really wanted to come to the US,” she laughs. After a series of educational mishaps (“No school would hold me,” she says), she ended up in Seattle and decided, with a friend, to try her hand at street performance. “We played for like five minutes and we had enough money to buy a Whopper,” she remembers. “We were so excited.” She was soon a staple around Seattle, and after a chance gig playing Krist Novoselic's birthday party the former Nirvana bass player invited her to jam. Impromptu sessions led to a proper band—Sweet 75, after a poem by Theodore Roethke—and, within months, a major-label record deal and opening slots for heavy-hitters like L7 and Dinosaur Jr.
For whatever reason (take your pick: lackluster marketing, musical differences, the vagaries of the music industry, a listening public not ready for a queer woman of color who was also an unrepentant badass mother fucker) Sweet 75's debut album failed to find much success and the band fizzled out in the late 90s. The intervening years have found Yva Las Vegass living, loving and singing her heart out, honing her craft to razor-sharp precision.
There's not much catering to the English-speaker on this album, the bulk of which is sung in Spanish, just as there's not much excuse for a 21st century American not to speak at least conversational Spanish. But the blood and sweat that are all over this record don't really need translation, either. Guaranteed, no one on this earth sounds like her.
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