French Horn Rebellion
May 19, 2011
Better Than: DIY Jazzercise in your living room.
If there's one lesson show-goers can take away from a live Yelle performance, it's that enthusiasm will get you everywhere. And sometimes, it means getting physically removed from a venue by security guards for planting your Keds on the balcony railing and gyrating too dangerously for 15 minutes during the encore. Such is the dedication of the French electropop trio's fan base.
Of course, Yelle was dishing it right back at 'em. For about two hours straight last night, Brittany-born Julie Budet did what she does best, which is strut, writhe, vogue, and rockette-kick her way into the hearts of anyone who watches her for more than five minutes -- regardless of how repetitive she gets, or how little of what she's singing you understand.
"San Francisco, who is ready for a love song!" yelled the diminutive pop star, with more than a touch of self-aware glee -- for the second time, but who's counting -- before launching into "Je Veux Te Voir," the somewhat X-rated second single off 2007's Pop Up. Behind her, on the stage a glowing white "Y" pulsed along with the bass.
I used to think Yelle was kind of obnoxious. And the summer after that album came out, there was a moment in which if you did not like Yelle, or maybe even intensely disliked her, it became difficult to get into your friends' cars, or go shopping, or turn on the television, because there she was, with an angular haircut, doing leg lifts. Her synth-pop shtick was everywhere -- quirky, syrupy, and somehow packaged-feeling, despite her awkwardness. And then one day, she just started growing on me. I still don't really get it. I just had to dance to it.
It helps that she's French, and also simultaneously nerdy and adorable. It helps that she sprints tirelessly around the stage, occasionally stopping to grab the drumsticks and bang on something for a minute, then yelp "San Francisco, I want to see you shake your booty-booty!" in a thick accent. Somehow it helps that last Yelle was wearing a skintight, hooded, red-and-black leopard-print onesie with pointy Vulcan-looking shoulder pads.
On tour to promote this year's follow-up, Safari Disco Club, Yelle (which as a band includes producers GrandMarnier and Tepr) hit all the dance-ready strong points on both albums --"Ce Jeu," "A Cause des Garçons," "Que Veux-Tu," "Mon Pays." They sounded tight, and never missed a chance to remind those in the crowd that they should really keep dancing.
The crowd complied. In the front row, fashionista teenagers sporting glowstick necklaces elbowed each other for the best cell phone photo angles. Up in the balcony, an older gay couple took breaks between pogoing to make out. There was a mother grooving with what appeared to be her 8- or 9-year-old daughter, who was wearing a beret and a purple silk arm sling. Two extremely enthusiastic Indian guys wearing black and white stripes danced over to me mid-set wanting to know if I would partake in their "photo shoot of other awesome people wearing black and white stripes."
The lady knows how to set a mood. With this sophomore album, it seems she's ready to prove she's more than trendy loop music for H&M stores worldwide, that she can be a little less Olivia Newton-John, a little more -- and there's the problem. Cyndi Lauper? Gwen Stefani? Lady Gaga? Some of Yelle's moves and, yes, some of her calculated "weird" thing felt a little familiar. (Her first outfit was something like a haute couture muppet costume made of fabric scraps, maybe?) And yet, she seemed to be having more fun than many of her mainstream pop counterparts have in a really long time.
Besides, as a wise friend said while we watched people exiting the show -- half-deaf, drunk, really stoked, or some combination -- "Lady Gaga took half that shit from Michael Jackson, if we're being honest." None of the sweaty grinning people streaming past us seemed to mind either way.
Quote of the night: "You guys all speak French, right? You all understand all of the words?" -- Yelle
By the way: Budet recently made her acting debut in a short film called A Whore and a Chick, by French director Clement Michel; the film was presented at Cannes. She played the hooker.