Nouvelle Vague

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nouvelle Vague at Bloomsbury BallroomOn Saturday night, I saw French band Nouvelle Vague play at the Bloomsbury Ballroom. Their concept to cover New Wave songs in a Bossa Nova and French jazz style is inspired. Their two albums have featured songs such as Love will tear us apart, Teenage Kicks, Blue Monday and Ever fallen in love, stripping away the angsty guitars and synths and replacing them with acoustic, breathy, laid back, summery grooves. The resulting music, though great, is a little too light, too fragile for my taste.

I wasn't sure how this would translate on stage. Happily, in a live settings, Nouvelle Vague's music becomes more rhythmic and insistent with a deeper resonance as the double bass makes its presence felt.

Nor had I reckoned on Nouvelle Vague's two very charismatic live singers, Melanie Pain and Phoebe Killdeer. Playing a range of instruments - tambourines, maraccas, cowbells and harmonicas - both have a captivating stage presence. Their voices have contrasting styles which perfectly compliment each other - Melanie sings sweetly with breathy, wistful, hopeful, poignant tones, while Phoebe's voice is darker, deeper, and more dramatic. As a twosome, they're wonderfully alluring and enigmatic, dancing through the songs with light sways and expressive hands. Melanie plays a cute, wide-eyed innocence. The songs she leads (Ever Fallen in Love, Blue Monday) become melodic and sweet. Phoebe's songs have more drama - her Bela Lugosi's Dead is baroque.

It doesn't always work. Their cover of Blondie's Heart of Glass begins brilliantly with Phoebe archly singing a melodramatic Spanish flamenco. The song soon turns to sweet melodies, which I felt was a missed opportunity. Conversely their cover of Too Drunk to Fuck descends from their style to a riotous cacophony, with most of the audience dancing and chanting along as if the original was being played.

Happily, these are exceptions rather than the rule. There's a sense of playful fun through their music, especially in concert. Phoebe caused my favourite moment, melodramatically asking for the house lights to be turned "red, deep red, passionate red, blood red". The lights stayed candy pink, to which she replied gothically, "...or pink will do". Their versions of Guns of Brixton and Friday night, Saturday morning were sublime, melodic and haunting, the latter all the more so as I had gone out on Friday night and returned on Saturday morning and felt the effects... The overall effect is to cause a wry smile, with admiration for talent both in performance and music.

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Boz said...

If you liked Nouvelle Vague, Barefoot are also worth checking out.

They cover dance music in a similar-ish style.

In particular their version of Underworld's Born Slippy is a thing of genius.

Adrian said...

Barefoot were the support act in fact!

There was just one woman singing, so I was a little confused as to how they were called a band. This seems to clear that up.

Bintal said...

Where do you find random bands/shows like that? I want to be an about-towner like you. kiss.