L'amour (or Less) @ Union Hall, 3-3-07
Tipsy from pastis and just handed free drink tickets, I shouted out to Matt of Ear Farm, "This is like my dream concert!" He'd organized the show of French and French-inspired indie music with a big assist from Mancino's Jonathan Mason, but in a parallel universe where I knew how to book bands and arrange venues, I probably would've compiled a very similar bill. After all, on any given day, France is playing a big part in my life. I've been teaching myself French for the last year, translating Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal and Sartre's Le Mur, rocking my Serge Gainsbourg and IAM CDs, passing time in bistros with hangar steak and glasses of bordeaux, and even plotting to move to that country next autumn. So when I saw the announcement on Matt's blog, I knew there was no doubt I'd be in attendance.
The show was at Park Slope's Union Hall, where I seem to be hanging out more and more lately. The crowd started out thin but grew steadily, selling out somewhere after the second set. These were smart people—everyone on the bill ranged from very good to great. First among the five performers was Paris-to-New York transplant Mike Higbee, a singer-songwriter who alternated between acoustic and electric guitar. At first, I was pessimistic, as his opening songs were fairly straightforward surf-rock folk à la Jack Johnson. But as he loosened up, he showed off the full power of his voice and the impressive extent of his guitar skills. The longer he stayed on, the better he got and the more diverse his repertoire grew. He sang some great numbers in French, he invited instrumentalists to accompany him, and his style became all his own.
Next up was Clint, a Parisian rock band who'd come over for a mini-transatlantic tour. This was their last date among ten, and their gratitude for the crowd was endearing. They played with that same level of enthusiasm, by far the loudest band of the evening. The style they favored, the kind of fun, indulgent, decadent, coke-bender rock that dominated in the '80s, isn't necessarily my favorite, but it was a tight, enjoyable and promising set. Undeterred by the intimate space, the lead singer Felix seemed to thrive on his rock-star status, swaggering and strutting around proudly like a Mick Jagger who trills his r's.
Then came Die Romantik, another Paris-to-New York resettler, to change the tempo entirely. They still rocked, but the music was more intimate and layered. They drew me in immediately with their moody, arty music and soaring vocals. Of all the bands, I would've most liked to have heard their recorded material first. I think I would've gotten even more out of it that way, more layers and more elements. Still, even without that advantage, their set was a winner and Die Romantik impressed me as a band to watch. Anyone doubting their undeniable efforts could see the evidence in the sweat splotches growing ever-larger on guitarist Oliver Pierre Bernard's grey dress shirt.
Fourth up was Mancino, who I previously wrote about here. Their music probably had the most tenuous connection to France, although both keyboardist Nadim Issa and drummer Jonathan Mason grew up there and their song "L'amour or Less" contributed the title to the night. No matter though—I wasn't about to be daunted by details. Nor was I bothered when both the band and Matt warned me this might not be their best set, as singer Mike Grimes was down with the flu. I'd been incessantly playing their debut Manners Matter enough that even a subpar Mancino set was preferable to a lot of other options. Then the trio launched into their first song and any and all equivocations became irrelevant. The guys were just as good as I expected, distilling their album to its most kinetic highs and elevating their game in the transition form record to performance. Birthday boy Grimes, who had just been lurking in a corner, head down, sipping water, showed no signs of sickness suddenly, revived, magnetic and emotive. Issa and Mason stepped up to the occasion too, providing the requisite vivacity and energy I was hoping for. It ended up being my favorite performance of the night, and if that was really one of their lesser sets, I can't imagine what the top of their game sounds like.
Finally came Brooklyn-based, French-singing La Laque, an ideally calming, charming capper to the proceedings. They make retro lounge music that's stepped directly off of a French New Wave soundtrack. Their performance was atmospheric and sexy, especially given how lead singer Devery breathily and lustily purred her words. She sounded like Jane Birkin and looked like a coquettish Anna Karina, which is to say unconscionably gorgeous. It was hard to concentrate on the music, but when I did, I found myself enjoying it a whole lot. It was beauty-adoring, cheese-worshipping, philosophizing France honed down to its sonic essence, so of course I would love it.
With the taste of radioactive-yellow licorice still on my tongue, I went home longing to rewander Parisian arrondisements, to feast on galettes and cider, to be coated with the stink of Gauloises at the Cafe de Flore. Still, Matt, Jonathan Mason and all the bands they brought together made a convincing argument that there's plenty of France to be found right here on my native soil. Now that there's talk of L'amour or Less becoming a semi-annual event, I'd recommend that you make it a point to attend next time. In fact, I'd recommend that you pretty much attend any Ear Farm-sanctioned concert from here on out.
* MP3: "L'amour (or Less)" - Mancino from Manners Matter
* MP3: "Hetchie Hutchie Footchie" - Mancino from Manners Matter [Buy it]
* MP3: "Tik Tok" - Die Romantik [Visit them]
* MP3: "Narcissist's Waltz" - Die Romantik [Visit them]
* MP3: "La Sirène Dort" - La Laque [Visit them]
* MP3: "Le Week-end" - La Laque [Visit them]
* Artist MySpace: Mike Higbee
* Band MySpace: Clint
* Band Website: Die Romantik
* Band MySpace: Mancino
* Band Website: La Laque
Tags: Ear Farm, Union Hall, L'amour or Less, Mike Higbee, Clint, Die Romantik, Mancino, La Laque, MP3