Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nouvelle Vague with Clare and the Reasons

9:30 Club
Washington DC
February 20th, 2010

Clare and the Reasons
The fact that Clare Manchon, the namesake for tonight’s opening act, took the stage wearing a washboard, should give you somewhat of an idea of the multi-instrumental folk-pop that followed. Accompanied by two other band members (one of which I’ve learned is her husband Olivier Manchon), whom I presume are "the Reasons", Clare played a short, sweet set that was unfortunately drowned out much of the time by the unmistakably inconsiderate crowd at the 9:30 Club. Typically an opening band has to deal with the ego shattering vastness of an empty room, but tonight Clare and the Reasons had quite the opposite…a completely full house...but full of uninterested chatterboxes.

Experimenting with a wide array of instruments that included kazoos, a clarinet, a xylophone and even a recorder (you know…the kind you played in grade school), the band soldiered on, despite the noisy crowd, which at times was literally louder than they were. Clare tried to give the crowd a break, saying "there sure are a lot of talkers out there…but I bet there are a lot of good listeners too…you listeners get a gold star". But it wasn’t long before her Brooklyn attitude shown through as she finally addressed the louder majority, saying "if your neighbor is talking to you, feel free to tell them to shut the fuck up"…there you go Clare!

Clare and the Reasons’ sound was very mellow, at times reminding me of a lounge act. The band soothed those who were paying attention with some beautiful vocal harmonizing and with Clare’s incredible whistling. Not since Axl Rose in that "Patience" video have I heard whistling this good! Adding to that previous list of instruments, the band members took turns playing an acoustic guitar, a bass guitar, a mandolin, a violin, a keyboard and a snare drum. As a matter of fact, each band member appeared to pick up something different with each new song. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until their finale, when they brought on a fourth "Reason" to play tuba that they finally figured out a way to overcome the murmur from the crowd.

Nouvelle Vague
Nouvelle Vague has one distinct characteristic that makes them completely and wholly unlike any other band or artist that I’ve written about for the Year Long Music Binge…that is, they are a cover band. Now I realize that cover bands are a dime a dozen and that you can literally find one playing in the corner of just about any old bar you happen to meander into on a given night. In my experience with these musical harbingers of unoriginality, there are three main types that I need to discuss prior to going further.

The first type of cover band is the aforementioned "faceless" band playing "Brown Eyed Girl" in the corner of the bar. These poor individuals typically go unnoticed and are forced to compete with the din of the bar patrons, a feat not unlike what Clare Manchon had to deal with tonight at the 9:30 Club. At best, they are the soundtrack to countless attempts at a drunken "hook up" and at worst, they are simply background noise.

The second type of cover band is that of the "tribute band" (coincidentally, I will be covering one of these in my next post for the Music Binge). These acts focus on recreating the sound (and sometimes even the image…yikes!) of one band and one band only. Now the tribute bands can be broken down into two sub-categories, one of which I find appealing and the other appalling. The first type of tribute band are those who choose to re-create the music of bands who have long since broken up, retired, died, what have you…think Led Zeppelin, The Beatles or Pink Floyd (these I’m okay with). The second type are those who feel the desire to "become" a band that is still very much active and creating music, i.e. Metallica, Pearl Jam, U2, etc. (these I just don’t get).

Finally, there is the third category of cover bands…the re-mixers, or those who take another artists’ work and completely transform or re-make it to fit their own style and vision. This can lead to some amazingly fresh sounds…think Jimi Hendrix’ cover of Dylan’s "All Along the Watchtower" or Eric Clapton’s version of Bob Marley’s "I Shot the Sheriff". Tonight’s headliner falls into this third category. However, unlike Hendrix and Clapton, they are a band whose entire catalogue revolves around making other artists’ music their own.

Nouvelle Vague, which is French for "new wave" is more a project than an actual band. The brainchild of producers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux, they take old school punk and new wave tunes and recreate them in a laid back, bossa nova style sung by various female vocalists. If you aren’t familiar with bossa nova, it is a traditional Brazilian style of music that can be described as samba meets smooth jazz.

The live version of Nouvelle Vague features guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and two female singers. For this tour, those two singers were Brazilian Karina Zeviani from lounge/electronica act Thievery Corporation and Belgian actress/singer Helena Noguerra. From the minute the band took the stage, the atmosphere was more like a party than a concert. No doubt this was partly due to the fact that this was the last date on the American leg of Nouvelle Vague’s tour and they seemed ready to pull out all the stops. That same crowd who were completely inattentive during Clare and the Reasons’ set were all ears now. In fact, if you couldn’t hear Nouvelle Vague singing Depeche Mode’s "Master and Servant", it wasn’t due to rude chitter-chatter, but rather because of the deafening screams from the primarily female audience.

The band played through an interesting set of covers ranging from the upbeat and danceable, "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes to the downright depressing, "Bela Lugosi’s Dead" by Bauhaus, making all of them distinctly their own. The musicians were perfectly content to stay in the background, allowing Karina and Helena to flit and flirt around the stage, much to the delight of the males in attendance tonight. Renditions of The Police’s "So Lonely" and New Order’s "Blue Monday" were well received crowd pleasers, but it was the pogo inducing poppiness of Nouvelle Vague’s take on "Too Drunk to Fuck", originally by The Dead Kennedys, that turned into quite possibly the most interesting crowd sing along I’ve ever witnessed. Also especially notable was Nouvelle Vague’s version of Joy Division’s "Love Will Tear Us Apart"…I mean how do you make that song peppy?

The enthusiastic crowd refused to leave the 9:30 Club, calling the band out for multiple encores, which they in turn seemed more than willing to oblige. By the time Nouvelle Vague did finally call it quits, there wasn’t a face in the crowd left without a smile. Honestly, you’d be smiling too if you’d just seen two bombshells in skin tight dresses doing their best Johnny Rotten impersonation while rocking out to The Sex Pistols’ "God Save the Queen". As I’m finding more often than not with this project, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance I chose for this week’s entry into the Music Binge. And as the French often say when they’re surprised…ooh la la!

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