On one hand, you see a band as good as dark French new wave/surf rockers La Femme open a show in broad daylight, to a relatively small crowd, and you think to yourself, damn, these guys should be headlining. Then self-interest takes over and you remember that the last time you were at Central Park Summerstage, the crowd was even smaller because of the monsoon that night. Yesterday evening, there was a similarly ominous cumulo-nimbus sky looming overhead, but as it turned out, no big cloudburst. Still, it was reassuring to be able to catch this interesting, individualistic, kinetic six-piece group – guitar, bass, drums, and as many as four keyboards – before any deluge could have developed.
The band romped through the opening number over a catchy four-chord hook, frontman Marlon Magnée’s sepulchrally tremoloing funeral organ – the group’s signature sound – front and center. Clémence Quélenneche, the lone femme in the band, sang on that one with an airy Jane Birkin delivery. Magnée took over the mic on the next number, a mashup of motorik krautrock, new wave and French hip-hop. After that they could have sung “Tu as les yeux verts, tu as les yeux verts,” over and over as they nicked a very popular New Order hit, but weren’t quite that obvious.
Then they brought the lights down low to a Lynchian glimmer over a hauntingly catchy Karla Rose-style desert rock hook, swooshy and sweeping keyboard textures mingling behind the steady minor-key strums of Strat player Sacha Got as Magnée traced the grim decline of some kind of relationship in rapidfire rap cadences. It was surreal to watch bassist Sam Lefevre put down his four-string and switch to keys even though an oldschool disco bassline was the central hook of the echoey new wave surf tune, Sur La Planche, the band hitting a trick ending with a splash of cymbals and then diving right back into it. They closed with a long, hypnotic, drony organ number that was a dead ringer for an early track from the Black Angels‘ catalog – and just as catchy. The crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one.
There were a couple of other French acts on the bill, psychedelic funk dude General Elektriks and southwestern gothic-tinged guitarist Yael Naim, who’s won all sorts of awards lately, but the safe call, at least with a laptop slung over the shoulder, was to head straight for the train. La Femme are staying in town a little longer to make a video or two, and promise to be back in the fall.