Nouvelle Vague are quite the cross-generational phenomenon.
Sometimes described as “afternoon listening”, the collective’s quirky interpretations of post-punk classics are proper midlife ear-candy and yet the audience for the mid-week concert at Her Maj ranged from hipstah yoof to blue rinsers.
Musicians Olivier Libaux and Marc Collin kick-started Nouvelle Vague in 2003, when a moment of insanity led them to produce a chirpy bossa nova version of Joy Division’s iconoclastic and doom-laden “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Dreamy, coquettish vocals by singer Eloisia were a shocking contrast to Ian Curtis’s darkly ominous rendition and yet it was so crazy it somehow worked.
Libaux and Collin continued their poptastic romp through ’80s post-punk classics, prettifying the angsty outbursts of Killing Joke, Depeche Mode, The Ramones, The Cure and other New Wave giants with the help of a rotating range of (mostly) female vocalists.
Fast forward to 2017 and (after a six-year-or-so hiatus) the NV troupe are back, touring their new album I Could Be Happy, the first to feature original tracks.
Although a quick squiz at the setlist might lead you to think you were about to see a cover band, it’s clear from the opening number (the album’s title track) that these guys reinvent rather than repeat.
Their rendition of the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen Love” is bossa nova almost to the point of samba and Gary Numan’s “Metal” is morphed into a fabulously funky dance tune. Eno’s “No One Receiving” is given a bouncy, upbeat twist, but most astonishing of all is the clubbed-up version of Madness’s “Grey Day”. Who knew Madness could sound so uber-cool?
All the musicians on stage, including founder members Libaux (guitar) and Collin (keyboards), are impressive but focus inevitably falls on the vocalists. Melanie Pain’s cutesy naivety is perfect for delicate, dreamy numbers such as “I Melt With You” (Modern English) and the slightly Goldfrappy “Loneliness” (a Nouvelle Vague original), while Elodie Frégé’s sultry slinking and huskier tones give the performance a sexy, cabaret edge.
But perhaps the vocal star of the show is Liset Aleam whose devastatingly beautiful voice transforms Tuxedomoon’s “In A Manner of Speaking” into a gorgeous haunting ballad that far transcends the original.
If only all cover bands were so clever, so classy!
Nouvelle Vague performed one show only in Adelaide as part of a national tour. Their new album, I Could Be Happy, is available now.
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