Tucked away in a dark alley, just a small distance away from all of fluorescent lights of the LA night scene, is the Hotel Cafe. Walk a little too fast or blink too quickly at the wrong time and you might miss it entirely. Known as the place where acoustic songwriters go to make it big (it’s fostered the careers of Adele, Sara Bareilles, and Ingrid Michaelson, to name a few), it’s only natural that Singaporean singer-songwriter Linying would make her US debut in such a legendary venue.
With no more than 50 people in attendance, the Hotel Cafe served as an intimate setting that would throw off even the most confident of performers. After all, there were moments where the room’s atmosphere dropped to a complete silence, where the audience were capable of carefully studying Linying’s every movement on the tiny corner stage. But Linying and her songs seemed right at home right there, basking in the warm spotlight. Backed by a drummer/violinist and a guitarist, Linying’s music moved the crowd, and her angelic, emotional vocals proved to us Californians why she was such a sensation back home in Singapore. This was made all the more apparent during her opening song, “Liar,” a collaboration that she had done with fellow musician Gentle Bones back in 2016. But while she sang, I couldn’t help but notice that something was troubling her. Her voice carried that emotion subconsciously, even when she didn’t try to.
A few minutes later she revealed the cause: she had just gotten word that a young lady who made the two hour drive from San Diego to LA was unable to get into the venue because she was under 21. Thinking on her feet, Linying quickly told her friend in the crowd to start live-streaming the performance from Instagram, and to tell someone to let the girl outside know that she was aware of her predicament. With nothing more that she could do, Linying smiled half-heartedly and continued running through her set.
The difference between “Liar” and her second song was audibly distinct. Now free from that guilt of leaving a fan in the dark, Linying’s vocals truly started to soar as her drummer briefly switched to a stand-by violin to accompany her voice. It was impressive how well she could control her notes–sitting at one of the tables closest to her, I could feel the power of every single vocal shift that she expertly achieved. When she added some urban-inspired “yuh-yuh”s to her song about falling in love in the springtime (unnamed, from the new record), I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Ariana Grande’s own versatile vocal range and similar vocal inflections scattered throughout thank u, next. Although Linying’s voice is higher and sweeter in comparison, if she wanted to make a more urban, contemporary album, there’s definitely potential there.
By the time “All of Our Friends Know” came up in the set, the room became warm and cozy despite the heavy rain that was falling outside. Although the live performance of the song was more stripped down than it was on the studio version (the dramatic violin stabs were regrettably omitted from the song), “All of Our Friends Know” still brought the energy up in the room. One also couldn’t help smiling when she subbed the line “We’re in downtown Austin causing a racket” to “We’re in downtown LA causing a racket.” Following that was a cover of “Self Control” by Frank Ocean, which was one of the songs that Linying admitted she was most inspired by.
Closing out the 7-song set were “Paris 12,” and “Sticky Leaves,” a song her and her fans amicably refer to as the “national anthem.” These are the songs that any Linying performance would be incomplete without. “Paris 12,” which Linying revealed she wrote about being in Paris while she was “a galaxy away” from the ones she loved, moved the crowd to tears. Though I’m sure that Linying has performed it countless times since its 2016 release, even there in Los Angeles, galaxies away from Paris, we felt every single emotion that Linying experienced when she wrote that song. “Sticky Leaves,” which was released on the same EP as “Paris 12,” echoed that sentiment, closing out the short set with heavy hearts.
It quickly became clear that Linying is a singer who is outrageously talented on stage. She’s a performer who can move the room she’s in to tears and conveys emotions subtly through just her voice. For anyone looking to listen to a singer who can actually sing (a rarity in the Internet era)–or to have a good cry–go see Linying. Her performance is not to be missed.
This free performance led up to SXSW 2019, which happened the week after Linying performed in Los Angeles.
Li-Wei Chu is a recent graduate from UC Davis who majored in Cinema and Digital Media who also briefly studied film at Queen Mary, University of London. Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really, any film that makes you stop and think.
He loves talking about film and indie music with others. He’s also a record collector and cross-stitches when he has free time. In the future, he hopes to be able to write about film and wants to find a job in the film industry that can support his record buying habits. Maybe one day he’ll also be able to play the guitar.