Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nouvelle Vague / Gerald Toto - Live 2009.09.09 Zakk, Düsseldorf, Germany

I know, I just wrote about how I wasn't going to write much, and here I am writing. Well, don't get your hopes up too much, but I figured I should write up a little review of the show I just saw.

Artist: Nouvelle Vague
Venue: Zakk
Location: Düsseldorf, Germany
Date: 9 September 2009
Opening Act: Gerald Toto

01. One Hundred Years [The Cure cover]
02. Master and Servant [Depeche Mode cover]
03. Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) [Buzzcocks cover]
04. Metal [Gary Numan cover]
05. Road to Nowhere [Talking Heads cover]
06. Human Fly [The Cramps cover]
07. Guns of Brixton [The Clash cover]
08. Too Drunk to Fuck [Dead Kennedys cover]
09. God Save the Queen [Sex Pistols cover]
10. Sex Beat [The Gun Club cover]
11. Just Can't Get Enough [Depeche Mode cover]
12. Don't Go [Yazoo cover] [with Gerald Toto]
13. Heart of Glass [Blondie cover] [with Gerald Toto]
14. Israel [Siouxsie & the Banshees cover] [with Gerald Toto]
15. Blister in the Sun [Violent Femmes cover]
16. Oublions L'Amérique [Wunderbach cover]
17. All My Colours [Echo & the Bunnymen cover]
18. Friday Night, Saturday Morning [The Specials cover]
19. Bela Lugosi's Dead [Bauhaus cover]
20. Love Will Tear Us Apart [Joy Division cover]

21. Eisbär [Grauzone cover]
22. Relax [Frankie Goes to Hollywood cover] [Gerald Toto solo]
23. [Unknown]

After starting a half hour late for unknown reasons, Gerald Toto came out and played five songs, accompanied only by his own classical and acoustic guitars. He tried to talk to the crowd in German but quickly gave up and used English, which is the language of his songs anyway. He's a talented guitarist and singer, but I found his songs a bit lacking. They were far from bad, but he relied too heavily on repeating his choruses into oblivion. He tried to get some audience participation in these extended codas, but sadly he failed to get much. After half an hour, he left the stage and the audience impatiently awaited the main act.

Nouvelle Vague on tour consists of the two masterminds of the band, Marc Collin and Oliver Libaux (playing acoustic guitar and keyboard, respectively, I think), along with a drummer/percussionist, an acoustic bassist, and two singers, Melanie Pain and Nedeah Miranda. In the studio, Marc and Oliver play most of the instruments, while the songs are sung by a variety of singers, most of whom are female except for the notable exception of the aforementioned Gerald. Live, Melanie and Nedeah traded vocal parts, although Gerald came back out a few times to sing (and play guitar) as well.

I was immediately surprised by the intensity of the band and the behavior of the singers. Based on the songs I'd heard from their albums (of which I've admittedly not heard that many), I'd expected them to be fairly quiet, tame, and restrained. The band is typically characterized as playing bossa nova music, which is partially true and also provides the play on words of their name. See, "nouvelle vague" in French means the same as "bossa nova" in Portuguese, namely "new wave", which happens to be the style of music that the songs they cover were originally recorded in. However, in this show, they did not shy away from heavier grooves, dark and droning ballads, acoustic rock, and plenty of other sounds.

They half-jokingly, half-earnestly referred to their take on "Road to Nowhere" as a country version, but they were telling the truth. Their version of Bauhaus' was (predictably) a somewhat darker groove, as was also the case with "All My Colours". However, songs like "Just Can't Get Enough" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (both covered on their first album of three) sounded more like traditional bossa nova. I get the impression that the band quickly tired of sticking to pure bossa nova, and have instead decided to radically rework these punk, new wave, and post-punk classics into all sorts of acoustic arrangements with emphasis on impressive vocal talent and style.

I was quite surprised by the energy and vivacity of the singers: both were fairly active in their style and movements, and they had no problem shouting at the audience or screaming as appropriate during the songs. The energy was mostly a welcome surprise, although it sometimes went a bit too far. I never really liked "Too Drunk to Fuck" in the first place, but their take got increasingly rowdy as they endlessly repeated the chorus, and after the song they asked the audience to shout the word "fuck" in unison for no apparent reason. The immaturity reminded me of a story a friend once told me about Green Day pulling the same trick with their preteen audience.

In any case, the performances were all solid, and the song selection was superb. (I didn't recognize every last song, as I've always preferred post-punk just a touch over new wave and punk, so I don't have complete background knowledge about some of their songs that lean in that direction, but many of their choices are quite dear to me.) Their opening was fantastic; the first songs were all great, especially "Master and Servant" and "Metal". Gerald's take on "Israel" was a pleasant surprise for me; it wasn't particularly inventive, but the song stands as one of my absolute favorite Siouxsie & the Banshees songs. "Blister in the Sun" was another nice little surprise.

"Oublions L'Amérique" (aka "Forget America") was introduced by explaining the name and that it was written by a French punk band during the Bush era, so the singers apologized, since they clearly like Obama much better. I appreciated the gesture, and I wish I could have understood the French lyrics of the song. "Eisbär" was a wonderful delight; it was performed by only Melanie and Marc, and they pulled it off fantastically. Both singers spoke no German (both preferring French or English); but Melanie faked the lyrics well enough. I think the German audience really dug it, and I did too.

Since the show started late and I had to catch a train back to my current home in Cologne, I had to leave the show early. I'm fairly confident that I left during the last song, but I didn't recognize the song and I couldn't stay to figure it out. In any case, I still got to hear about an hour and a half of fantastic reinterpretations of some of my favorite songs. Again, musically speaking, the band is spot-on – these are very skilled musicians and singers, and even if they aren't writing their own material, their songcraft is evident in their arrangements. They make for a more engaging show than I was expecting.

Gerald Toto: C+
Nouvelle Vague: B+

P.S. I think it is physically impossible for me to write a short review.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why I've Been Absent

Dear readers, I apologize for my continued absence. I know that I always apologize for not writing much, but I have been fairly busy, you know, living my life and earning degrees and things. Anyway, these days I’m living in Germany and I’ve had enough going on here that I haven’t been able to make writing music reviews a high priorty. I’m still willing to do it, though. For example, I might see Nouvelle Vague or Pere Ubu in the next month, and writing live reviews isn’t too hard to do. Of course, I did see the Junior Boys in New York City at Webster Hall in late July, but I was way to busy with my transatlantic move to write a review. So, we’ll see what happens. Don’t expect regularity, but if inspiration strikes, I’ll write something up.

I have been finding some good music while here. I got my hands on a few works of classic Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave) and that’s been great, or I could review the Boys Next Door’s album (their only one before they changed their name to The Birthday Party).