Let Me Entertain You: Nouvelle Vague @ World Cafe Live 1.22.10

I’m all for novelty in music.  I love kitschy and unusual songs, especially if they’re cover versions.  Some of the best covers are those that render a well-known song in a completely different style.  Nouvelle Vague have made a career (and have earned quite a following) for doing just that.  While the simple description is that they do bossa nova style covers of punk and new wave songs, the band has recently started to expand their sound while keeping the quirk alive and well.  So, can an essentially one-joke band hold its own for an entire evening?  Well, maybe.

First of all, there was the opening band, Brooklyn-based Claire & The Reasons.  The trio was nothing if not well-versed in the excruciatingly cute.  Combining every typical “aww”-inducing trick (including, but not limited to whistling, French horn, glockenspiel and songs about being a sleepyhead), listening to this band was like snorting a Pixie Stick while getting your cheeks pinched.  Needless to say, they did not exude the effortless cool that I assumed Nouvelle Vage would.  As it turned out, Nouvelle Vague had plenty of its own shtick, though they could turn to Claire & The Reasons for some organizational lessons.

Here’s the main problem with Nouvelle Vague’s set: once I recognized what song they were interpreting, I gave it a good chuckle and impatiently waited for whatever was next.  Sure, the versions were enjoyable and very impressively arranged (along with the two lead singers, the band was made up of a four-piece ensemble), and tunes like “Road To Nowhere” and “Human Fly” were some of the definite standouts.  What the band needs, or, more specifically, what singers Helena Noguerra and Karina Zeviani need is a choreographer.  When not singing, they shuffled and flailed about haphazardly, breaking the veneer of smoothness that bossa nova music so strongly creates.  Karina did “God Save The Queen” while seated next to guitarist Olivier Libaux, one half of the core directors of the band (keyboardist Marc Collin being the other).  This playful aside was a highlight, as was the eerie, bowed bass-led encore of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”

What makes most of Nouvelle Vague’s albums enjoyable is the variety.  The first album was great in that no one would ever have thought to combine such disparate genres.  The second, Bande à Part fell flat under more of the same.  With 3, they gathered some of their covers’ original vocalists to mix things up.  No, I wasn’t expecting more than just a handful of singers (and certainly none from the new wave era), but Nouvelle Vague’s concert was just a lot of the same over and over again.  With a few illusion-wrecking nods and winks (the original concept was that the singers weren’t familiar with the songs they were covering), Nouvelle Vague left me badly wanting to hear the original versions of the songs they performed.  Entertaining as they were, Nouvelle Vague is not a band you need to see more than once.

Click the picture above to see more pictures of Nouvelle Vague in concert!!

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~ by E. on January 29, 2010.

2 Responses to “Let Me Entertain You: Nouvelle Vague @ World Cafe Live 1.22.10”

  1. Claire and The Reasons also featured a musical saw and drumming on the glockenspeil case. Perhaps Claire was better suited to maintaing the t-shirt table.

    Nouvelle Vague were cute enough and their setlist was good but, you are right, I don’t need to see them a second time. The first time was more of a social experiment to see who actaully goes to see them. Great review.

  2. Sounds like a nice performance!

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