New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: french pop

Withering Arabic Political Anthems and Swinging Noir Sounds at Youssra El Hawary’s US Debut at Lincoln Center

“We want our programming to be reflective of this city,” Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh said succinctly, introducing firebrand Egyptian singer/accordionist Youssra El Hawary this past evening for her North American debut. “She had an amazing song that went viral, part of the Arab Spring movement.” El Hawary has come a long way since her scathingly antiauthoritarian youtube hit The Wall six years ago.

She channels an angst and a noir psychedelic sensibility very similar to the French band Juniore. Yet she hasn’t lost any of the witheringly cynical political edge that brought her worldwide acclaim. ‘I can’t describe how emotional I am today,” she told the crowd, confiding that after her first show in Egypt, she thought she’d resign herself to going home and giving up on her dream. Sometimes good things happen to people who deserve them.

The blend of El Hawary’s chromatic accordion, Shadi El Hosseiny’s stalker electric piano and Sedky Sakhr’s wood flute in the night’s opening number, Kollo Yehoun, blended for an absolutely lurid mashup of late 60s French psychedelic pop and Egyptian classical songcraft. Tareq Abdelkawi’s buzuq added uneasily rippling intensity beneath El Hawary’s unselfconscious, airy Arabic-language vocals. She draws you in, whether understatedly moody or cool and collected.

Sakhr switched to harmonica for the second tune of the night, La Tesma Kalami, an anthemically strutting, shadowy Pigalle pop tune driven by Yamen El Gamal’s punchy bass and Loai (Luka) Gamal’s understaged drums. The anthemic, cabaret-tinged Kashkouli, as El Hawary described it, tackled issues of overthinking and fearlessness, Abdelkawi doubling the bandleader’s plaintive lead lines.

El Hawary rose gently out of El Hosseiny’s creepy, twinkling music box-like intro to a swaying, minor-key midtempo number, Mana Washi, Sakhr’s flute wafting and then bouncing as the band took the song further into straight-up rock territory. The title track to her album – which she translated as “We all go to sleep at night, wake up and forget” – swung through unexpected tempo shifts, torchy cabaret infused with Levantine energy. “That’s what we’ve been doing the last six, seven years,” she deadpanned.

Sakhr cynically went to great lengths to describe the noxiousness of Cairo bus exhaust in the city’s notoriously tangled rush hour traffic. Songs about things that literally smell like shit seldom have such a carefree bounce as Autobees, the jubilantly sarcastic number the band followed with. El Hawary didn’t hesitate to make the connection between the Cairo wall in her big hit and Trump’s proposed version on the Mexican border, which drew roars of applause as the band vamped and swung behind her: cosmopolitan elegance, pure punk rock energy.

Abdelkawi’s spirals and flickers lowlit the romantic angst of Baheb Aghib; then El Hawary brought the lights down with the bittersweetly lilting vocal-and-piano lament Bil Mazboot. The band went deep into swaying, crescendoing Cairo cafe land with the instrumental Sallem Zal Beit, a showcase for El Hawary’s accordion chops.

They reinvented the new wave-era French pop hit Maron Glacee with a droll calypso feel, then flipped the script with Jessica, a vindictively swinging kiss-off singalong directed at the ditzy French girl who stole her boyfriend. Despite differences in the band about how to translate Reehet El Fora, everybody agreed it was about the kind of sinking feeling that comes with having a Jessica around. With its neoromantic swirl, it was one of the night’s most stinging moments.

The band built a brooding fog behind her and then leapt into Hatoo Kteer, El Hawary skewering the Egyptian habit of stockpiling in case of crisis. She closed with Akbar Men El Gouda, the night’s most rock-oriented tune, then encored with a moodily catchy film theme that she credited as being a pivotal post-Wall moment in her career. 

You’ll see this show on the best concerts of 2018 page here at the end of the year. Lincoln Center’s mostly-weekly series of free concerts at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. continues next Thurs, Oct 11 at 7:30 PM with a rare New York performance of South African jazz featuring reedman McCoy Mrubata and pianist Paul Hanmer. Get there early if you want a seat. 

A Fun Early Evening Central Park Show By Dark French Rockers La Femme

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 Naimwho’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.

Les Nubians Charm the Kids and Their Parents Too at the French Alliance

What if you told your six-year-old that you were going to take them to a performance that was educational, multicultural, rhythmically challenging and completely G-rated? They’d probably tell you to get lost, right? Well, late yesterday morning the French Alliance staged a program that was all that…and the kids loved it.

French-Cameroonian duo Les Nubians – sisters Helene and Celia Faussart – celebrate sisterhood, unity and Africanness in ways that aren’t cliched, or annoyingly P.C., or patronizing. Their music is sophisticated, blending elements of American soul, central African folk, downtempo, funk, bossa nova and hip-hop, to name a few styles. And much as all these genres got a similarly multicultural, vividly New York crowd of kids and their parents dancing and swaying along, you wanna know what energized the kids the most? A detour into an ancient Cameroonian folk dance fueled by balafonist François Nnang’s gracefully kinetic flourishes, the crowd spontaneously clapping along with its offbeat triplet rhythm. Some things are so innately wholesome that kids automatically gravitate toward them, and the folks at the French Alliance are keenly aware of that.

Age groups quickly separated out: gradeschoolers and preschoolers down front, filling the first two rows, tapping out a rhythm along with the band onstage, singing and dancing along as their parents watched bemusedly from the back rows. The crowd was pretty much split down the middle genderwise, at least among the kids, boys just as swept up as the girls in the pulsing grooves and the Faussart sisters’ irrepressible good cheer, charisma and dance moves. Their parents got a 90s nostalgia fix via a playful, French-language remake of the Sade hit The Sweetest Taboo, along with songs like the pensive Demaind (Jazz) from the group’s 1998 debut album, and the spiky, catchy Makeda. Guitarist Masaharu Shimizu played eclectically and energietically over animated, globally fluent clip-clup percussion by Shaun Kell.

Les Nubians have a handle on what kids like. They worked a trajectory upward, enticing the kids to mimic their dance moves, getting some call-and-response going, up to a couple of well-received singalongs (employing some complex close harmonies rarely if ever heard in American pop music). The big hit of the day was the Afro Dance, Helene swinging her dreads around like a dervish. The show was briskly and smartly paced, holding everyone’s attention throughout just a bit more than forty-five minutes. Considering the venue, the sisters took turns addressing the crowd in both French and also in good English; Helene seems to be the main translator of the two. Their repartee with the children was direct and unselfconsciously affectionate – both women taking plenty of time to highfive all the kids down front to make sure that nobody was left out – but the two didn’t talk down to the children either.

Out of this blog’s posse, the hardest member to please is usually Annabel. She’s six – woops, make that six and a half. She spent most of the first half of the show occupied with some actually very sweet sisterly bonding with her friend Ava, age seven, whom she hadn’t seen in awhile. By the twenty-minute mark, both girls had run to the front, Annabel right up at the edge of the stage, transfixed. She got a highfive from Helene; meanwhile, Ava was getting a workout along with the rest of the dancers. What was most striking was that both girls could have been very blasé about this concert: neither is culturally deprived. But they both had a rousingly good time…and were ready for a big lunch afterward.

The French Alliance has all kinds of fun bilingual events and experiences for families on the weekend: this concert was just one example of how kids can get an exposure to cultures and languages they might not ordinarily encounter. As just one example, there are a whole bunch of free workshops for toddlers, preschoolers and their parents this coming Saturday, December 12 in the early afternoon.

A Hot Saturday Night Date with Les Chauds Lapins

Saturday night at Barbes the room was packed. Once Les Chauds Lapins began their set, it was literally impossible to get inside to see them playing their pillowy, bittersweet original arrangements of jazzy French pop songs from the 1930s and 40s. Like Les Sans Culottes, Les Chauds Lapins (literally, “The Hot Rabbits,” 30s French slang for “hot to trot”) occupy a significant slice of the demimonde of Americans playing French music. Over the years, hotshot guitarist/singer Meg Reichardt’s French accent has gotten pretty good. Co-leader Kurt Hoffmann distinguishes himself with his meticulously witty new arrangements as well as his agile clarinet playing. But in this band, both musicians play banjo ukes on most of the songs, this time backed by a swoony string section with bass, cello and viola. So these new versions are considerably different from the original piano-and-orchestra or musette-style recordings.

Les Chauds Lapins further distinguish themselves by performing a lot of relatively obscure material, not just the best-known hits by Piaf, Charles Trenet and so forth. The chirpy sound of the two ukes enhances the songs’ droll, deadpan wit: both Hoffman and Reichardt have a thing for bouncy romantic ballads about affairs that start out looking just grand but by the second verse or so have gone straight to hell. And Hoffman had the strings punching and diving and dancing with a verve to match the songs’ lyrics.

They opened with Vous Avez L’Eclat de la Rose (a free download), about a girl who smells like jasmine but may not be so sweet after all. A little later on they did one of their big crowd-pleasers, Le Fils de la Femme Poisson (The Fishwife’s Son): he’s in love with a circus freak, but if that doesn’t work out he’s always got a gig waiting for him playing accordion at a relative’s country whorehouse. Reichardt sang another surreal number from the point of view of a girl who gets trashed beyond belief early in the evening, hooks up in the bushes with some random guy and then starts to lose her buzz, realizing that she might have made a mistake. But, what the hell: “Let’s dance,” she tells him as she straightens her dress. Hoffman’s bubbly, precise clarinet added a cheery dixieland flavor; Reichardt, who’s a mean blues player, showed off her increasingly impressive jazz chops on one of the songs midway through the set. A lot of the material this time out was relatively new, at least for them, one of the most interesting numbers being a vocal version of Django Reinhardt’s Swing 33.

And most everybody listened through all the puns, and the innuendo, and the double entendres. OK, there was one gentrifier boy, or maybe not a boy, whatev, in the back of the room, hell-bent on impressing everyone within earshot with how blithe and fey he was, and he WOULDN’T SHUT UP. But nobody paid him any mind. People like that don’t usually go to Barbes anyway. Les Chauds Lapins will be there again on Valentine’s Day at 8.

Another Edgy, Hilarious, Spot-On Album and a Muchmore’s Gig by Les Sans Culottes

Isn’t it ironic to the extreme that one of the few New York groups to articulately stand up to the menace of gentrification and trickle-up economics would sing their lyrics in French? In a global context, maybe there’s some twisted logic to that. After all, when faced with austérité or corruption, the French actually do something about it. Usually that means they go on strike. Maybe we should too: after all, at this moment in history, on est tous Charlie.

Les Sans Culottes are a New York institution, stars of the demimonde of Americans playing French music. Except that Les Sans Culottes’ music is original: they’re sort of the Spinal Tap of French rock. Their specialty, throughout a career that spans almost twenty years, is their own twisted take on the ye-ye pop that sprang up in France in the mid 60s, a coy hybrid of American garage rock and psychedelia and bouncy French variétés pop. More recently, their music has become somewhat less satirical, while their impressively fluent French lyrics have become more so, with a corrosively funny, politically spot-on sensibility. Their latest, arguably best and most savagely amusing album, the menacingly titled Les Dieux Ont Soif (The Gods Are Thirsty, a phrase that dates from the terror after the French Revolution) is streaming at soundcloud. They’re playing Muchmore’s at midnight this Friday, Jan 16.

The band members’s noms de plume (noms de guitarre?) give you a good idea of where they’re coming from. There’s frontman Clermont Ferrand (whose alter ego fronts another NYC institution, the Jug Addicts); girl singers Kit Kat Le Noir and Courtney Louvre; drummer Jacques Strappe; bassist M. Pomme Frite; keyboardist Benoit Bals, and hotshot guitarist Geddy Liaison. As you would expect from a band that’s been going as long as they have, there’s been some turnover across the years, this being by far the hardest-rocking version of the group. Throughout their career, their songs have parodied and pilloried everything French, from cuisine, to literary snobbery, to politics: in this age of austérité, it only makes sense that the new album would have more of a snarlingly political focus.

With its slinky Pink Panther groove, the title track perfectly capsulizes the band’s appeal: Clermont Ferrand and the girls poking fun at French vinophilia, but with a subtle undercurrent that casts the gods as a bunch of power-mad drunks. Allez Les Humains (Up with People) blends touches of gospel, Rolling Stones and Zapp and Roger into the mix, a gentle poke at the tech-obsessed. They revisit that theme with The Galactic Man, via Benoit Bals’ silly, quavery space-pop keys.

As usual with this band, the hardest-hitting tracks are the best. L’affaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn gets a withering look, speaking truth to power against a mighty, anthemic backdrop. DSK’s dismissive “Je suis un client de Sofitel” is priceless, and perfectly capsulizes what that was all about. Likewise, Gendarme Gendarme roars into Dead Kennedys territory, a blackly amusing view of police state terror in post-9/11 NYC. The bouncy groove of La Nouvelle Norme Amorale disguises its exasperated view of trickle-up economics and contains what might be the album’s best couple of lines:

Les troupes de choc pour notre chômage 
Ils sentent mauvais comme des grands fromages

Rough translation: “Shock troops against the unemployed/Smells as bad as the big cheese.” And the most resonant and maybe funniest of all the songs here, at least from a hometown perspective, is Très Brooklyn, a broodingly anthemic, keyboard-driven sendup of gentrifier #patheticness, right down to the trendy neighborhood name-dropping.

On the more lighthearted side, there’s the pretty self-explanatory Faux Pas, with its roller-rink organ. Kit Kat Le Noir sings Pierre, Don’t Let the Cat Out, which might be a satire of yuppie overconsumption, or it might just be a catchy, organ-and-guitar-fueled ye-ye pop tune. She also takes over vocals on the gently tropical-flavored La Fille Chichiteuse, a poke at a snobby girl.

The wickedly catchy, pouncingly pulsing Metro Boulot Dodo draws a sardonic picture of party animals caught on the dayjob treadmill. And the band revisits that in the lone sort-of-English-language track here, the hilariously funky What People Do for Money, which sounds suspiciously like the kind of conversation you might overhear between BCGB Parisian transplants recently relocated to Bedford Avenue.

Dans la Nuit is a cruelly accurate spoof of faux-jazzy 80s/90s French pop. The surreal cowboy tale Oh Minot has a wryly punchy, vaguely Spanish flavor: it sounds a lot like the group’s similarly satirical Dutch predecessors Gruppo Sportivo. And you don’t need to speak French to enjoy the music: in their own way, the English translations at the band’s lyric page are just as funny as the original French versions.

A Lushly Gorgeous Global Party Album and a Subculture Show from Banda Magda

Banda Magda‘s previous album Amour, T’es La put a shimmery equatorial spin on bouncy vintage French ye-ye pop. Their new album, Yerakina (streaming at Bandcamp) is a lot more diverse, considerably darker, and has a much more global reach – and it’s pretty amazing. This time out, frontwoman/accordionist Magda Giannikou – who also plays the ancient Greek lanterna, a hauntingly rippling instrument – explores styles from the Mediterranean to the Amazon and many points in between. She sings in a warm, searching high soprano, much in the same vein as another A-list global songwriter, Natacha Atlas, and has a band to match the songs’ ambitious scope. They’re playing the album release show at 10 PM on Oct 4 at Subculture; advance tix are $18 and highly recommended. Much as Banda Magda’s albums are inventively arranged and lushly orchestrated, the band really kicks out the jams onstage.

The album opens with Sabia, a bubbly, shuffling, accordion-fueled mashup of salsa, Belgian musette, Mediterranean sun-song and a wry hint of cumbia. El Pescador, a hit for Colombia’s Totó La Momposina, gets done as a lush, elegant flamenco-jazz number, Giannikou’s balmy, pillowy vocals floating over stately piano and strings. Trata, a gorgeously swaying Middle Eastern-tinged Greek party tune with rippling hammered dulcimer, cheery brass and animated guy/girl vocals, takes on additional bulk and heft as the arrangement grows.

They contrast that with Luis Gonzaga’s Doralice, reinvented as a dancing miniature for Petros Klampanis’ bass, Giannikou’s vocals and a hint of tropical organ. The album’s title track is a swoony yet kinetic, lavishly orchestrated Greek ballad. The plaintively swinging lament Petite Fleur sounds like Chicha Libre in low-key, brooding mode, a psychedelic cumbia done as French chamber pop, while Karotseris blends Henry Mancini Vegas noir with creepy hi-de-ho swing and late 60s French psych-pop.

The album’s longest track, Cucurucu Paloma is also its quietest and most hypnotic, a hazy blend of rustic Brazilian rainforest folk and lingering psychedelia. With Giannikou’s rapidfire, precise Portuguese vocals, the final cut, Vinicius de Moraes’ Senza Paura keeps the equatorial flavor simmering as it picks up the pace. Whatever continents Banda Magda touch down on here, they find themselves at home; this is one of 2014’s best and most disarmingly charming albums.

Charming French Tropicalia from Banda Magda

Truth in advertising: the cd cover for Banda Magda’s new album Amour, T’es La? is pink and festooned with palm leaves and tropical fruit. Although what this group plays is not dark – it’s bouncy, upbeat, irrepressibly fun music – it is quintessentially New York and cosmopolitan to the extreme. Frontwoman/accordionist Magda Gianikou writes and sings in French, although her ancestry is Greek. Her core band includes vibraphonist Mika Mimura, guitarist Nacho Hernandez, bassist Petros Klampanis and percussionist Marcelo Woloski. The rest of the players on the album – among them drummer Jordan Perlson, cellist Jody Redhage and violist Ljova Zhurbin – represent this city’s A-list jazz and classical music scenes. Gianikou’s quirky, clever arrangements also include parts for brass, shamisen, hammered dulcimer and concert harp. It’s a party in a box.

The title track – meaning “You There, Love?”  – sets the tone, Gianikou’s chirpy vocals (and solidily good French accent) soaring over bouncy bossa pop. The second track, Asteroide is a sassy, tiptoeing swing tune, Gianikou cajoling a guy to come populate her empty planet. Caramel works a latin disco groove, but in an organic way with lush strings and breathy, come-hither vocals (and a chorus that at first listen sounds like “cassoulet”).

The band brings in echoey Rhodes piano with the lush strings on Ce Soir (Tonight), followed by the jaunty boudoir pop anthem Couches-Toi (Lie Down), building to an unexpectedly lavish waltz midway through. Juin (June) sets a slightly delirious, slightly Indian-tinged seaside resort tableau, while Fond de la Mer (Bottom of the Sea) evokes Jenifer Jackson at her balmiest and most psychedelic.

La Japonaise is an Asian-tinged, drolly festive tale about Mimura’s adventures playing a Montreal jazz bar, dodging seductive men and losing her mallets in the street. Mouche (The Fly) is funkier – she gets in your hair, she may end up in your drink and she wants your body. The catchiest song here is Oublies-La (Forget Her), with its barrage of la-la’s, salsa piano and soaring flute. The album winds up with the dreamy but bouncy Petite Maline (which translates roughly as Little Devil or Little Troublemaker), Gianikou insisting she’s not a bad girl even though she ripped a hole in the roof so she could look up into the sky and see all the bright colors. Gianikou plays the Lincoln Center plaza for free at 7 PM on July 26; later on that night on the stage out back in Damrosch Park, she’ll sing alongside headliners the Kronos Quartet. Banda Magda are at Prospect Park bandshell at 7:30 PM on August 3, opening for salsa jazz legend Eddie Palmieri.

Strange, Clever French Pop from Benjamin Schoos

In French rock, the Cure were for many years what the Beatles were in the Anglophone world: a template for how to do things. So it’s no surprise that Benjamin Schoos’ album Chinaman vs. Chinagirl has a cold 80s sheen, with a couple of tracks that come close to nicking melodies straight from the Robert Smith songbook. But the album is a lot more musically diverse than that. On one hand, it’s partly a teens update on Serge Gainsbourg. In a smooth Gauloise baritone, Schoos talks his way through a pun-infested Chinese wrestling narrative – how’s that for surreal? On the other, it’s artsy 80s pop with chilly faux-retro teens synth timbres keeening and woozing through the mix, sometimes over a stiff new wave beat, sometimes swaying forward another ten years with a trip-hop rhythm.

Do you have to speak French to get this music? As catchy as the tunes are, not necessarily, but to have any appreciation of Schoos’ sense of humor, yes. He’s as influenced by French rap as he is by Gainsbourg – everything is a pun, some of them very funny, some less so. There’s actually hardly anything Chinese about the album, although wrestling – both the real and phony kinds – and boxing serve as recurrent metaphors for guy/girl tension. The album’s bouncy first song, Marquise doesn’t really set the stage – it’s a kiss-off to an ice queen and may have literary or political resonance (a thinly veiled Carla Bruni dis, maybe?). After that, Schoos duets with Laetitia Sadier on a catchy new wave pop song that, predictably, sounds like Stereolab covering the Cure. Profession Catcheur (Pro Wrestler) works a series of jokes – and a particularly amusing one about Margaret Thatcher – into a trip-hop spy theme, followed by the lush, artsy, faux-angsted piano ballad La Chinoise.

The album wouldn’t be French if it didn’t have a fingersnapping faux lounge jazz number, would it? This one’s a snidely satirical portrait of a pop culture maniac: “Some people like the art of smoking, putting on the patch…me, I live only for wrestling,” he tells the world. That prosaic English translation doesn’t do justice to Shoos’ wordplay.

As a centerpiece, the title track is a letdown, ripping off Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. But Schoos gets the jokes going again with Le Combat, sort of a rewrite of the duet with Sadier, this one personifying the idea of love, Schoos insisting that he’s going to kick love’s ass. After that, over ominous, icy chamber pop, Schoos revisits the famous fight between surrealist icon Arthur Cravan and world heavyweight Jack Johnson: “That’s the life I’m embracing, I invite you, my friends, come help with the party, throw a white guy a crumb,” Schoos declares. The album ends with an absolutely evil duet between Chrissie Hynde (who gamely makes an attempt to sing in French) and Marie France, two girls yucking it up about how much they like to make men suffer. There’s a twelfth track, but it’s anticlimactic…and it’s in English.

Who is the audience for this? In English, probably the same crowd who’ve embraced Gainsbourg: silly as much of this album is, it can be a lot of fun. By the way, apropos of the title, “Chinaman” doesn’t carry the racist connotation in French that it does in English. Neither the album nor its tracks seem to have made it to youtube or dailymotion (the French youtube), although it is on Spotify.

The Atlantic Antic: Real Brooklyn

The massive Atlantic Antic street fair on Sunday afternoon made one thing very clear: 99% of Brooklyn wants nothing to do with the Atlantic Yards development, the Brooklyn Nets or the shoddy new arena where they play – which is already rusting, since the developers who built it were too cheap to use good materials, or spring for a few cans of Rust-oleum. “Ratner building – douchebag!” Les Sans Culottes frontman Clermont Ferrand ad-libbed during the band’s version of Serge Gainsbourg’s New York USA, playing on the street a few blocks north of Sahadi’s. Out in front of Hank’s a little later, “psycho swing” band Tri-State Conspiracy’s guitarist pointed back at the rundown bar behind him and laughed: “Who would have thought, you’re not the biggest eyesore in the neighborhood anymore.” It’s not clear if the excellent gospel group out in front of the church a few blocks closer to downtown Brooklyn, or the mbira player a couple of doors down, or the funk or hip-hop acts past Hoyt Street had anything to say about the scam to seize private property in the name of eminent domain that paved the way for the neighborhood’s newest and largest eyesore. But it wouldn’t be a stretch. Meanwhile, Borough President Marty Markowitz, one of the arena’s most notorious shills, made the rounds, sucking up to the fair’s organizers, but the crowd paid little attention other than booing him vigorously.

But the music was great, and it was oldschool Brooklyn: no anorexic boys new to Bushwick standing slack-jawed, watching their former Evergreen or Hampshire classmates mumhling tunelessly over randomly awkward guitar chords. Tri-State Conspiracy mocked that element with their best song, The Clone, a slashing minor-key ska-punk tune:: “All your opinions match the crowd you’re hanging with…your voice is weak, yet you’re so authoritative every time you speak ,” their trumpeter/frontman snarled. A little earlier, Les Sans Culottes voiced the same contempt in Les Enfants Terribles, one of their more amusing faux-French garage rock numbers:

Ces precieuses ridicules
Avec leurs tetes dans leurs culs
Les enfants du parodie
Faisant pipi dans leurs lits

That translates roughly as “These ridiculous, precious parody kids, with their heads up their asses, pissing the bed.” Les Sans Culottes have been playing ferociously funny songs for a long time: they might have played the very first one of these Atlantic Avenue fairs back in the 90s. They still lovingly make fun of the French: Babar, baguettes and bidets each got a biting, minor-key song this time out, but lately the band has been shooting at larger game. The best song of their set was a savagely anthemic broadside directed at at a notorious French rapist: “C’est moi, le playboy international, un legend avec les initiels – ce ne’est pas un criminel, mais son client est Sofitel.”

That’s the genius of Les Sans Culottes – while their sometimes intentionally fractured French lyrics are very clever, evem if you don’t speak the language, it’s often easy to get the gist of them. Behind Ferrand (who took that name after a particularly egregious political scandal shook that part of his “native land”), harmony singers Kit Kat Le Noir and Courtney Louvre, bassist Pommes Frites, guitarist Geddy Liaison, keyboardist Johnny Dieppe and drummer Jacques Strappe romped through one catchy tune after another. Stealing riffs from Johnny Kidd, X, Dylan and Led Zep, the organ swirled and dipped, the guitar burned, the bass rumbled over a surprisingly tight swing beat as Ferrand and the two women made fun of hot girls, ungrateful ex-boyfriends, cactuses and French slang. The best jokes were so good that it wouldn’t be fair to spoil them. At the end of the set, the band played their biggest audience hit, Ecole de Merde (French for “school of hard knocks”); the mostly oldschool crowd gathered around wanted an encore, and they got one.

Tri-State Conspiracy seemed to have created the most spontaneous dancing of any of the Atlantic Avenue bands. Their crowd also screamed for an encore, and got a blistering version of Blitzkrieg Bop. Before that, the band blasted through a bunch of punked out ska tunes with murderous arrangements and solos from their four-piece horn section. Among the songs: a couple of sinister Dead Kennedys-flavored minor-key tunes; an undulating, creepy number about Bush-era paranoia; the viciously scampering Toss You Right Out of My Life; a couple of old soul hits, and a twistedly evil ska tune from the band’s 2001 debut ep. Who would have thought they would have lasted this long: they were good then and they’re even better now.

But the best band of the afternoon might have been the Middle Eastern group that played for what seemed all day near the corner of Hicks Street, backing an endless parade of graceful bellydancers. Oudist and bandleader Maurice Chedid played with a casually intense, edgy virtuosity alongside a terse violinist, a keyboardist who used a quartertone accordion setting on his synth when he wasn’t giving the dancers lush sheets of orchestration to sway and bend to, over the hypnotic beat of several percussionists. With several breaks for characters from the neighborhood taking turns stepping to the mic and saying their piece, the band ran through one vintage classic after another from Lebanon and Egypt, going all the way back to the 30s. One of the organizers even took a turn in front of the band, singing an innuendo-packed ditty that would have been risque fifty years ago. It’s groups of people like this who stand to lose the most as gentrification and the corruption that comes with it sucks the individuality out of New York neighborhoods and replaces it with a Ratnerville of parking lots and 7-11s.