New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: rock francais

La Femme Bring Le Noir to Williamsburg on the 19th

There’s no French equivalent to Halloween, but French band La Femme play as if they grew up with the American holiday. The core of the group comprises frontman/keyboardist Marlon Magnée, chanteuse/keyboardist Clémence Quélenneche, guitarist Sacha Got and bassist Sam Lefevre. Their June Summerstage show was tantalizingly eclectic, neither as dark nor as trippy as their previous studio output. While their latest album Mystere – streaming at Spotify  – is arguably their most diverse to date, there’s enough menace on it to entice you in and then keep you there with all its catchy hooks, both light and dark. The songs’ French lyrics range from surreal humor, to broodingly cinematic narratives, to punk hostility. La Femme are back in New York this Oct 19 at 7 PM at Warsaw in Williamsburg. Cover is $18.

The opening track, Sphynx, lives up to its inscrutable title – at heart, it’s a ba-bump noir cabaret number, but lit up with a swirly, circling synth hook and a big, ominously blustery string synth arrangement. La Vide Est Ton Nouveau Prenom (Empty Is Your New Name) follows a moody psych-folk sway, sparse acoustic guitar blending with mournful keys. Ou Va le Monde (Where’s the World Going?) sets Magnée’s apprehensive rap over the brooding surf rock that’s been the group’s signature sound, more or less, since the beginning. with a weird, achingly warped keyboard solo out.

The band takes an unexpectedly sunny detour with Septembre. notwithstanding the clever outro where they reintroduce a Jesus & Mary Chain theme to its Velvets roots. Tatiana sounds like the Black Angels on whippits (with a little Plastic Bertrand thrown in), while both SSD and Elle Ne T’Aime Pas (She Doesn’t Like You) come across as a Gallic take on Pulp during the British band’s snide pseudo-disco days.

Exorciseur (a pun on “exorcist”) nicks the changes from the national anthem of grunge and makes swaying psychedelia out of it. Mycose is a sardonically lyrical mashup of surf music, motorik disco and Planet Clare new wave. Tueur Des Fleurs (Flower Killer), with its low, looming string synth and Lychian tremolo guitar, is the album’s darkest and arguably best track. The dubby, ethereal, late Beatlesque Al Warda is ominously enticing; and the loping, surfy Psyzook, with Quélenneche’s stratospheric, airy vocals, is arguably even more mysterious.

Le Chemin (The Road) could be a dangerous early Dream Syndicate track if that group had been more keyboard-oriented. The album winds up with Vagues (Clouds), the epic that Julee Cruise never tackled. About 40% of this makes a first-class Halloween playlist; the rest you can sprinkle around your party mixes.

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.

Patricia Kaas Reinvents Edith Piaf

Last year, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Edith Piaf’s death, French singer Patricia Kaas teamed up with film composer Abel Korzeniowski to create a multimedia spectacle, Kaas Chante Piaf, a program she debuted in New York last night at the Town Hall. Roughly twenty years since Kaas’ first appearance on that stage, she’s added nuance to the breathy, noir-tinged cabaret gravitas that’s been her signature over a career that spans the worlds of blues, jazz and artsy French pop. When Kaas first hit in the late 80s as a twenty-year-old with the voice of a woman twice her age, word on the street was that she was the closest thing to Piaf since Piaf herself. While the Little Sparrow was and remains Kaas’ most obvious influence (with plenty of Marlene Dietrich in there too), her voice is different: a gale-force contralto that she’s reined in a little over the years with dynamic results. Among New York singers, the Sometime Boys‘ Sarah Mucho is a good comparison.

Even if you’re a superstar in your home country, as Kaas is, the challenge of singing Piaf is a potential minefield. As the show opened, things did not look good, Kaas singing to a lavishly orchestrated backing track, video screen behind her. But her musicians – Johnny Dyke on piano, Nicolas Stevens on violin and Frederic Helbert on guitar, accordion and the mixing board –  played tersely and meticulously kept up with the big symphonic swells emanating from the mixing desk, even if that occasionally subsumed what was being played live. And the result turned out to be a brave and individualistic series of reinventions of predominantly iconic songs. How did the lithely muscular, graceful Kaas decide to reimagine La vie en rose? She turned it into a dance piece, as the screen projected a series of geometric images that were not pink but purple. This show has several visual components, including a handful of brief dance sequences, and here she let her shirtless, stoic partner Ezio Schiavulli spin her upside down after she’d gone down into a tendon-busting crabwalk pose. And the sold-out, mostly French, mainly fortysomething crowd responded explosively.

There was no shortage of drama throughout the rest of the show, from the anguished to the comedic. An attempt to get a guys-versus-girls singalong going fell flat on its face (as it had the first time Kaas played here), so she seized the opportunity to ham it up. She opened with an imploring, rather harrowing take of Mon dieu, dating from 1960 when all the drugs were really starting to take their toll on Piaf, and closed with a cannonball version of Non, je ne regrette rien which was successful in generating a rousingly spontaneous singalong from pretty much everybody while obvious drug imagery played up on the screen. Along with the dancing, several costume changes and some thoughtful commentary from Kaas (whose English has gotten pretty good over the years), there were a couple of minutes’ worth of droll, bittersweet home video footage of Piaf herself.

Kaas took the angst of being haunted by a lingering melody to its logical, towering conclusion with Padam, padam, went into the darker corners of her voice for the world-weary heartbreak of Milord, got rather coy with C’est un gars, creepily theatrical with the noirish cabaret number Mon vieux Lucien, and raised the bustling La foule and the rather epic Hymne a l’amour to full-throttle crescendos. She also did an extremely welcome version of one of her own songs, D’Allemagne, reinvented as a slowly building, grittily intense, nocturnal piano-and-voice overture, a far cry from the moody bluster of the stadium-rock version on her massive double live album from back in the 90s. This was the final stop on Kaas’ US tour this year; she plays a stand at the Olympia in Paris on Sept 26-27 and is back there on Oct 10, with a lot of European and Russian touring around those dates. The full schedule is here

Another Anti-Xmas Song – Sort Of

In a season of wretched excess, here’s a cool anthem- if you speak French. The band is called Nous Non Plus, which means “us neither.” The song is J’en Ai Marre and that means “I’m sick of it.” It’s boppy female-fronted retro new wave with lyrical bite: Plastic Bertrand all over again. Download it free here.