Gig/Concert: Nouvelle Vague
Venue: L’Astral, Montréal, QC, Canada
Date: 26 January 2010
Headliners: Nouvelle Vague
In one word: Fabuleux
If you don’t know them yet, France’s Nouvelle Vague are the cover band that’s not about to play your wedding party – as much as you wish they would, DJ-in-a-can be damned. They perform playful, sultry, (mostly) bossa-nova covers of 80s punk/new wave bands (hence their name, “new wave” in French) ranging from Dead Kennedys & Sex Pistols to New Order & Joy Division, with a little Heart and Bauhaus in between. It’s a combination that almost has no right to work as well as it does, somehow managing to avoid the dreaded gum-and-nuts mélange of elevator music covers, tasting more like that dessert that’s an espresso shot dumped over vanilla gelato. Mmmm. Gelato.
The biggest aversion factor I have with most cover acts is that they become such transparent idol-worship that they’re less “tribute band” than “masturbatory experiment.” In taking over old hits and giving them a completely different context, Nouvelle Vague are no such thing, with fairly consistently awesome results. Their sound doesn’t stay strictly within the bossa-nova / jazz frame – evident on their latest album, 3 – giving them lots of room to play around, and they come up with some fairly surprising interpretations.
The show starts with a haunting, wistful version of The Police’s “So Lonely,” capturing the song’s isolation so well in a way that it creeps up through my spine, and now I can’t imagine hearing it any other way. The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” gets turned into a subversive sleepytime lullaby, with only a singer (I think it’s Karina Zeviani?) curled up on the stage floor and Olivier Libaux sharing the darkened stage, rehashing the anti-monarchial diatribe with almost more sneer – for all its understated delivery – than the original. The cherry on top is the gamine sing-along refrain of There’s no future/No future for you, so sweet, yet so… evil? It’s something you’d expect out of one of those movies featuring a deceivingly demonic child.
The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” is given a slinky beginning giving way to the familiar chunky beat but with Karina’s breathy vocals threatening the whispery refrain. Like I said, I didn’t think that I would love this as much as I do. Getting the audience to chant FUCK serves as an intro to Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk to Fuck,” here turned into a dizzy jazzed-up tale of debauchery, with Karina Zeviani tossing around on the floor and Marina Celeste dancing around behind her. Two Depeche Mode songs also make it into the set – “Master & Servant,” & “I Just Can’t Get Enough” – and Gary Numan’s “Metal,” (off of their latest album, 3) was a surprise; I last heard this being covered by Nine Inch Nails on their last tour.
Coming back onstage for the encore, they play my absolute favourite – Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” which quite frankly, might be better than the original. I don’t know how I’m able to actually admit that, but there it is. Their version of “Bela” plays heavy on the B-movie-style organ, doing credit to the titular actor’s repertoire; with the stage bathed in red, Marina is sprawled on the stage next the electric stand-up bass, and Karina’s vocal delivery ranges from growl to howl until she too, ends up on the sticky, beer stained floor. The show ends with the flamenco-frenzied “Not Knowing,” followed by Tuxedomoon’s “In a Manner of Speaking,” winding down with the sleek bossa-nova that they do so well.
© Liz Keith
Setlist (with original composers):
So Lonely – The Police
Master & Servant – Depeche Mode
Ever Fallen in Love – Buzzcocks
Metal – Gary Numan
Making Plans of Nigel – XTC
Blue Monday – New Order
Human Fly – The Cramps
Guns of Brixton – The Clash
Too Drunk to Fuck – Dead Kennedys
I Just Can’t Get Enough – Depeche Mode
Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads
Stop the World – Modern English
Dance With Me – Lords of the New Church
Blister in the Sun – Violent Femmes
Friday Night, Saturday Morning – The Specials
Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division
Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Bauhaus
Not a Love Song – PIL
Not Knowing – Minimal Compact
In a Manner of Speaking – Tuxedomoon
Photos – Nouvelle Vague at L’Astral, Montreal