Nouvelle Vague | 09.13.06

They make Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" sound even sexier than originally conceived and nearly out-goth Bauhaus' Peter Murphy on "Bela Lugosi's Dead."

 

Metro, Chicago

While it would be easy to dismiss Nouvelle Vague as kitsch (what else could one possibly think when their entire body of work consists of bossa nova covers of new wave and post-punk songs?), it's hard to deny the charm and mischievous sophistication they bring to such songs as Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and Modern English's "I Melt With You." Live, any lingering doubts are dashed as they inject fresh doses of wonder and vitality into songs that have rightly become classics.

Imagine the spectacle Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet would bring to a rock 'n' roll cabaret and you'll begin to get the idea of what Nouvelle Vague brings live. Utilizing smoke machines and a waifish enigma of an accordion player to set the mood, this had to be one of the most singularly unique and entertaining concerts this particular writer has ever attended. While it's obviously the concept that initially caught the attention of listeners—from making Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" sound even sexier than originally conceived (with help from the aforementioned accordion player no less), to nearly out goth-ing Bauhaus' Peter Murphy on "Bela Lugosi's Dead"—it will undoubtedly be the sheer exuberance of their live show that will help forge lifelong fans.

Whether it's the bawdy yet striking vocals of Phoebe Killdeer or the whispery yet playfully seductive stylings of Melanie Pain, rarely have two young women owned a stage more. Killdeer's rendition of "Dancing With Myself," for example, is a jazzy, big band-style retro cut that sounds like it could have never been anything else, while Pain, on the other hand, is gleefully girlish and absolutely dazzling as she dances around barefoot to the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" and Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough." Unquestionably, though, one of the two highlights of the evening had to be Pain's interpretation of the Dead Kennedys' classic, "Too Drunk to Fuck," where she got the crowd worked up into a lather when she jumped off the stage and started dancing with various members of the audience before jumping right back on again. The other was the duo's entirely intoxicating version of Blondie's "Heart of Glass," a sexy and fun little duet where the harlot and the nymph played off of one another perfectly.

More than anything, though, what made Nouvelle Vague's live act so memorable was their unpretentious, yet elegant sense of fun. They were cool without being snobbish, and they were raucous without being offensive. What's even more impressive is that they seemed to pull if off so effortlessly. It's funny: After all the criticism the good old U.S. of A. has given France over the past couple of years, the country still finds it in its heart to give us something as sublime as Nouvelle Vague. All we've ever given them is Jerry Lewis. It hardly seems fair.

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