Sunday night’s performance of Nouvelle Vague could be summed up as:
a) All’s well that ends well
b) Well, that was awkward
d) All of the above
Correct answer: d), with my greatest possible respect to the band.
Nouvelle Vague entered our collective consciousness as a bit of a sensation when their first CD was released way back in 2004 (jeez, that long ago already?!?). And the attention was merited; bossa-nova style / lounged-up arrangements of the classics of the punk/new wave generation are a unique way to pay homage. Recruit some marvellous ladies to sing, and how can it miss?
Well, I did miss them their first time through Taipei, years back, and so I was psyched to be able to go this particular rainy evening.
Beginning with Lullaby, a sultry night had commenced. Reinterpreting the songs was not just limited to the music. Here, Robert Smith’s nightmare became a lustful fantasy, with the lines like, “Spiderman is having me for dinner tonight,” taking on all sorts of other kinds of meanings. *wink wink, nudge nudge*
Singers Melanie Pain, Liset Alea, and Zula rotated wardrobes & responsibilities, both as dancers and vocalists, sharing the microphone, various percussion instruments, and even one another’s bodies. Olivier Libaux (guitar) and Marc Collin (keyboards/samples, and all things electronic) effectively laid the shag carpet before the fireplace, poured the red wine, and allowed the trio of femmes fatales to enter their art of seduction.
Indeed, things got sexy & things got fun - Human Fly and Guns of Brixton were early highlights, for sure. Oh, and Blister in the Sun, Bela Lugosi’s Dead, and Dance With Me , and... too many great songs.
Liset Alea deserves special mention. Innuendo aside, what amazing things was she doing with her mouth? Whistles, horn sections, and charm to spare, I feel she really stole the show. But.. where was the crowd?
We were there... honest. And we were loving it, albeit in our own quiet way. When I learned the show was to be held at Neo Studio, I had to wonder at the chutzpah behind that decision. It is a beautiful place for a gig, but also pretty damn big. And that’s were the awkwardness comes in. An ensemble like Nouvelle Vague presents big songs most intimately. A large venue coupled with high-priced of tickets means you’re gonna get what was got: a less than full house and an unfortunate dispersal of energy.
With two sections: those with seats, and those without, it must have felt disappointing and lonely to the band. Especially if you top it off with a shy audience. Especially if you expect folks to be dancing. I expect the ladies & gentlemen onstage felt a bit confused.
And this is where my respect for them skyrockets.
Every performer wants a rocking crowd, or for the love of god, any reaction, please. With their great musicality, deft humor, and tireless enthusiasm, they ultimately succeeded. They first displayed their knack for improvisation when a guitar string broke. The ladies simply proceeded with an acapella rendition of Bizarre Love Triangle. No problem.
They finally - finally - coaxed people out their seats and shells before it was all too late, and enjoyed a small swarm in front of the stage for their finales. Love Will Tear Us Apart tasted of sweet nectar as the audience simply, reverently, softly sang the chorus to its end. There it was- a moment !
The encore concluded with an invitation for everyone to join them onstage. There weren’t so many of us as to pose a threat, and now that we’d finally bonded, why not? All seated, campfire-style, with duties assigned as either waves or birds, those who dared helped create a transcendent version of The Killing Moon. I’ll never think of the song the same way again.
My great thanks to Nouvelle Vague for visiting Taipei, and for their tremendous talents and professionalism.