Sunday, January 20, 2008

au revoir simone w. april march, bell @ bowery ballroom, 1/18/08

my long love affair with au revoir simone came to a head at last night's bowery ballroom show, their first at that venue and my first time seeing them, in a night that was defined by its inordinate and disgusting amount of face-sucking as much as the great music onstage.
i normally don't mind people getting intimate at shows, but the bowery must've been hosting couples night, because i was beset on all sides by the non-stop sound of slobber. kudos to the few couples who learned restraint and decorum, but the rest of you: SHAME. if you're gonna go at it like no one else is around, at least do it on the side of the stage, not right in the goddamn middle of the crowd. that's not cool! (sorry, just needed to get that off my chest.) it was my first show since returning from the u.k., and one i had been looking forward to for a while. you may recall that the bird of music was one of my favorite albums of last year, and while i had some reservations about their live show (mostly from tearknee, who was decidedly unthrilled by their latitude performance), i was, on the whole, excited to see my favorite vintage keyboard band live.

good thing i had my ticket in advance - the show, quite to my surprise, was sold out before the first opener went on. i had no idea au revoir simone had that kind of drawing power. the crowd seemed to mostly be girl-packs and the aforementioned kissing couples, though there were a number of single gentlemen; a crowd very unlike those at most shows i've been to (they even danced a little bit!). interestingly, a significant portion of the crowd seemed to have come only for opener april march, a well-respected underground sensation known best for "chick habit," the song that soundtracks the beatdown kurt russell receives at the end of death proof. april march's myspace boasts of her bilingual songwriting and that "france considers her their own cultural property." since she is not a regular live performer, catching april march (not her real name) is a rare pleasure, and it was clear that some had come only to see her.

the bowery presents selects opening bands for acts on tour alone, and it's always a hit-or-miss selection. i had no idea what to expect from opening act bell, having missed this tidbit that got people interested in her a couple weeks ago, but things certainly sounded good from the line outside, and i had a sinking feeling that i had made a mistake in arriving a little late. fortunately, i only missed a few songs, but i won't make the mistake of coming late for a bell set next time. bell is olga bell, a russian-born songwriter who plays a keyboard and macbook, who is blessed with one extraordinary voice. it's rich and versatile, velvety when subdued, and simply paralyzing on songs like "suerte loca," which featured some of the best vocals of her set. feist is a name that springs instantly as a comparison, as is that of shara worden, but bell's voice has a playfulness that sets her apart. her songs had no real pattern, save that they kept me riveted; had she shown up on the scene a few years ago, it's not a stretch to think that she would be where this other russian-born songwriter is now. she was joined onstage by a full band, who were themselves very impressive - drummer gunnar olsen and guitarist gary mcmurray really fleshed out bell's sound. olsen's drumming is inventive and engaging, and mcmurray's distorted guitar added a lot to bell's appeal. one of the set's many highlights was a (now well-known) compendium of covers, radiohead's "videotape" segueing into thom yorke's "the eraser," which was quite good. bell's take on "the eraser" was quite better than many of the songs from the eraser remixes, and as compelling as yorke's original. bell plays with takka takka at cake shop on february 1.

"suerte loca" (live on fair game, january 2008)
get the whole show from shane at the torture garden.


april march put on an interesting show, but i couldn't quite figure her out. her backing band were clearly strangers to her (she didn't even know the name of her guitarist), but were much better performers than she. i assume april march writes all her own music, but she played no instrument, and her body language didn't really suggest that she got into her performance. her music straddles a fence between languid francopop, of the edith piaf variety, and new wave bohemian beach rock with strong keyboards and guitars. her band was color-coded, with everyone in pink, and their energy far outstripped hers, with drummer steve weiss winning love from the crowd for his passionate pounding of the skins. the disconnect between april march and her band is probably nothing new, but it really colored my impression of her; her music is really solid, her voice is nice, but her set would've been crap without the band (and not just because i hate acapella). they injected her songs with great vigor, so that songs like "there is always madness" (which ended her set) absolutely blew me away. the band was rocking out, and april march was barely swaying back and forth. maybe she has stage fright, i don't know. the fact of the matter is, i would pay to see her band play again, but not her.

"chick habit" (song and video)

it was really cool to see the stage get set up for au revoir simone's set - i've never seen the stage so empty. usually cluttered with amps, mics, drums, guitar stands and so on, au revoir simone, naturally, only had keyboards set up in a row - i was just enchanted by how clean and empty the stage seemed, buttressing the band's aura of delicacy and deliberation.

though i love the bird of music, i was trepidations about how well au revoir simone's sound would translate to a live atmosphere. so much of their appeal is and, indeed, the bowery ballroom failed to satisfy, giving the band far too much bass and not compensating for the ladies' quiet vocals. that, in turn, gave their saccharine songs a trance-like quality, making "i couldn't sleep" ironically soporific and intensifying the hypnotic qualities of lusher songs like "a violent yet flammable world." for their part, however, the band seemed genuinely happy - erika forster was especially ecstatic, exclaiming at the top of the set how thrilled she was to be on the stage of a venue she'd seen most of her favorite shows at - though their enthusiasm soon was hidden by the seriousness with which they performed. even during the "dance portion" of their set (which was two songs long), au revoir simone played with a determined focus, smiling only at a song's end.

au revoir simone played a short but solid set (only 45 minutes), and whatever disappointment i left with was, i knew, not the band's fault. the sound just sucked - the band themselves asked for their mixes to be adjusted six or eight times throughout their set, and whoever was running the soundboard clearly had no idea what au revoir simone's music should sound like. despite the aural obstacles, it was a nice time, and the band put on a good show. they played each other's keyboards, sometimes in the middle of songs, they used a tambourine and maracas, and they had a really cute encore, which one expects from a really cute band. the last song was "the lucky one," opening track of the bird of music, and for the chorus, april march's band, passionate crowd members, and longtime friends we are scientists joined the band onstage, for a great singalong. it was a nice night, and a nice way to get back to nyc, and, ultimately, au revoir simone is just that - nice.

"sad song" (from their daytrotter session)
get the band's set live on fair game from the smudge of ashen fluff.

"dark halls"

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