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Nouvelle Vague
Gig review...
Nouvelle Vague
Support bands usually come in a type. There's the guys working their way up the ranks; if the headliners are well-respected and time-served, there's someone paying homage to them; there's the local guys brought in for one or two gigs when they don't bring a touring support, and then there's the mates of the band doing - a little side-project or something of that ilk. Quite often, unless they're in the first category, they aren't up to much. Sometimes, though, you get a gem, rough, but just waiting to polished.

We get that tonight.

Phoebe Killdeer tells us that she was once a member of Nouvelle Vague, but was thrown out for bad behaviour. We can believe it. She's sultry, seductive, and belting out bluesy gothic numbers like the Duke Spirit, with hints of early Nick Cave or PJ Harvey about her. It's a stompy American rock thing going on, with a passion that recalls the Noisettes.  A track is called 'I Like You Very Much' - it's hard to disagree. And her backing band ain't half bad either - being able to pull off the white-boy afro and shiny silver trainers combo is a sign of excellence from their guitarist. They would be perfect for a Tarantino soundtrack, their retro sleaze sound off-set with the ability to craft poppy little gems with hints of surf punk. Over to you, NV.

Having a tough act to follow, Nouvelle Vague open up with the surreal sight of The Cure being done in cheery bossa nova (the translation of their name in Portuguese), and the strange continues for the first part of their set, with a pleasant but pretty straight cover of The Buzzcocks' 'Fallen In Love'. It's a touch gimmicky, and they're coming across as without any real substance, like Mark Ronson without the instinctive soulfulness. It's clear why they're so popular on the festival circuit, as that would be the perfect setting - Sunday afternoon on the main stage, you're a bit fried from the day before, the sun's shining, it would work, but here they're struggling to rise above the level of a wedding band - albeit an excellent one.  

But, as they cut loose, and perhaps as the drink flows among the crowd, we all get into it, the gorgeous voices from their two front-women, the tightness of the musicianship and the strength of the original material comes through. 'Human Fly' is so seductive, it requires a stiff drink and lie-down. There are echoes of Patti Smith and the New York punk in the mix, the sense of deliberate wilful perversion, in twisting the form, like a grown up Radio 2 version CSS if they were being produced by The Divine Comedy. 'Too Drunk To F***' is a simple straight-forward crowd pleaser proving that it might not be big or clever, but it's entertaining to get large numbers of people swearing simultaneously. Their version of 'Blank Generation' is wonderful, while glorious set-closer 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' would surely draw the approval of its authors. It's given the treatment it deserves, stripped of the implied melancholy that looms with the original, becoming a joyous declaration of the effect of emotion with the crowd repeatedly singing the chorus till the drummer batters the skins in his best Stephen Morris impression.

For the encore, Ms Killdear is recalled to the stage for a raw rip-roaring treatment of 'Bela Legusi's Dead' which probably kills off several male members of the audience. Then, a slight error, calling us Dublin, before the ubiquitous when in Belfast cover of 'Teenage Kicks', which although done to death, still gets the bar-man standing on the bar to get a better view.

You don't blame him.

William Johnston

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Gig Details
Venue: Empire Music Hall
Location: Belfast
Date: 11/2/2008

Line Up
Nouvelle Vague
Phoebe Killdeer & The Sharp Straws

Related Links
+ Nouvelle Vague
+ Phoebe Killdeer and the Sharp Straws