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Nouvelle's gimmickry doesn't stand up live

January 07, 2006|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

The Clash's "Guns of Brixton" and PiL's "This Is Not a Love Song" were not written to be cooed but to be spat. Cooed they were, though, when French group Nouvelle Vague played the first of two nights at the Fold at Tangier on Thursday.

The band's name translates into Portuguese as bossa nova (more or less) and into English as new wave, and that's all you need to know to grasp the concept: Reagan-era hits originated by Depeche Mode, Joy Division, the Dead Kennedys and so forth, translated into Brazilian bossa nova and Parisian cabaret.

Oui, it's a gimmick. But it's a pretty good gimmick, though it grew thin in the course of a full concert.

On the recent debut album, "Nouvelle Vague," producers-musicians Olivier Libaux and Marc Collin employed a rotating crew of eight female singers. The live version features two vocalists, Melanie Pain (who appeared on the album) and Phoebe Tolmer (a post-album recruit).

Pain provided breathy seduction a la Astrud Gilberto or Claudine Longet on lilting interpretations of such songs as Modern English's "I Melt With You." Tolmer, in quasi-flapper garb, contrasted with a sultry, vampy-campy approach, spotlighted on "Guns of Brixton" and Bauhaus' goth psychodrama "Bela Lugosi's Dead."

Libaux (acoustic guitar), Collin (keyboards and ambient sound effects) and percussionist Thomas Ostrowiecki crafted appropriately understated music, but the ensemble seems to have painted itself into a creative corner.

And with new wave and punk hits already used to death in movie and TV soundtracks and subjected to lounge crooning and other gimmicky treatments, Nouvelle isn't exactly novel.

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