Sept. 30, 2011
The Regency Ballroom
Better than: La Femme Nikita, the television show, but as good as La Femme Nikita, the Luc Besson film.
When French musicians Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux assembled their culturally eclectic group of female vocalists under the witty moniker of Nouvelle Vague and released Bande a Part in 2006, their Bossa Nova-inflected lounge covers of New Wave and post-punk classics seemed like an ironic novelty. However, it seems there was enough charm and sultry playfulness to make their shtick catch on. Now, with five albums to boast, their technique and performance have risen to match the sheer style they have always possessed. Their performance of director Jean-Charles de Castelbajac's musical, The Dawn of Innocence, at the Regency Ballroom Friday night clearly illustrated their aesthetic and practical mastery of a genre they created and occupy alone.
There was little to indicate that an actual musical was being performed. The many wardrobe changes and monologues that pontificated on death and sexual debauchery and were delivered by young men in fabulous suits did little to create a narrative or establish any dramatic structure. Instead, those factors created a heightened sense of cultural subversion and erotic tension.
The erotic interplay between vocalists Mareva Galanter and Adrienne Pauly was so enticing that surely all of the couples in attendance were regretting their choice for date night. When Galanter and Pauly appeared in respective black and red leather dresses and hurtled into the first chorus of "Guns of Brixton," their self-restraint seemed to be rapidly dissipating; by the time they arrived at "Human Fly," their vocals, dancing, and facial expressions were on the cusp of sexual abandon. This crescendo repeated throughout the 22-song set, lending it enough dynamics and variety to remain compelling.
The band kept out of the spotlight, preferring to focus on its restrained grooves and unobtrusive but effective crafting of sonic texture. The only exception was the lead guitarist, who materialized on stage with an afro and leopard-print suit. From "Human Fly" and onwards, he terrorized attendees with atonal six-string screeches that bore resemblance to both a mating call and a death rattle.
Besides eroticism, the most consistent theme seemed to be death. Initially, the vocalists appeared enshrouded in smoke, clothed in dresses bearing skulls and harrowing black hoods. At various points, their clothes showed symbols of death, and their pale complexion and stark black hair, coupled with anguished renditions of "Killing Time" and "Bela Lugosi's Dead," contributed to the morbid ambiance. Liset Alea's chant of "Undead!" during the best known Bauhaus track was shouted with empathy, as if she acutely understood the hypothetical dilemma of the lyrics.
It was a performance of extremes. It polarized the concertgoers' sensibilities and mated restrained music with liberated vocals. Black and white imagery ran rampant and innocent pop songs were blackened, while dark pop songs were diffused and positively manipulated.
Popular fashion motif among concert attendees: Aging female French New Wave film fanatics and gothic aerobics instructors.
Actual number of wardrobe changes: 14.
Personal bias: I am a Francophile. Plus, I was wearing a Stranglers button, with no knowledge that the band would cover "Golden Brown."