24 January 2010
The premise: a French band reinterprets New Wave and punk rock songs as laid-back bossa nova tunes. Imagine lush, [sometimes] quiet remakes of classic Talking Heads, Violent Femmes, Dead Kennedys, and Joy Division material. Yes, it’s weird, but it works. It works even better live.
As the concept is not entirely unique, Nouvelle Vague owes a large part of its success to solid musicianship. The breathy, seductive vocals, stunning outfits, and sometimes over-the-top stage presence of vocalists Helena Noguerra and Karina Zeviani were the carefully-crafted centerpieces of the performance. The guitar, keyboards, and bass were right on, but in some ways drummer Spencer Cohen stealthily stole the show, charging precisely through very complex rhythms with a relaxed bearing and goofy grin that effused understated simplicity.
Opening act Clare and The Reasons was a delightful discovery. Her voice is great. Her husband plays guitar, violin, pennywhistle, kazoo, and the saw. Their song about Pluto was funny. They closed their part of the show on a high note by summoning a guest tuba player to supply the bouncy bass line for their hilarious cover (with violin and clarinet) of Genesis’ “That’s All.”