Nouvelle Vague steps away from cover band status into a fab Euro-artsy flashback
Nouvelle Vague (with Shock of Pleasure and Chameleon Chamber Group) performs at The Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave. Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. (doors at 7 p.m.). $18â€“$22. 214-824-9933.
Cover bands: You either love ’em or hate ’em. And if you love them, then every Journey or Allman Brothers CD in your collection is musical bliss. Otherwise, there is usually the awkward cringe that accompanies one while watching a middle-aged singer who still lives in his foregone moment.
But while French outfit Nouvelle Vague has three albums of nothing but other people’s songs, it has sidestepped the "cover band" stigma. That’s because founders Marc Collin and Oliver Libaux employ a unique approach: They don’t just cover late ’70s and early ’80s new wave — they reinvent it. Backed by dreamy bossa nova and lounge sounds, with wispy, detached vocals by an array of female singers, their source material (from the likes of Depeche Mode, Blondie and the Violent Femmes, to name a few) never sounded so fresh a second time around.
They never come off as background music you’d hear in the elevator on the way to the housewares department.
"It’s like we’re more of an indie band, and not a cover band," says Libaux, calling from Chicago, on the band’s North American leg of its tour in support of the group’s third album, aptly titled 3.
With its previous albums — 2004’s Nouvelle Vague and 2006’s Bande Ã Part — the group has toured throughout Europe and on America’s East and West coasts. This time, they’re exploring the middle of this country too, including a stop at the Granada Theater on Friday.
The band has subtly crept into American ears via TV, film and commercials, with people probably wondering, "Who sings that?" But gay audiences, who love a good French kitsch, probably perked their ears up with the band’s takes on Billy Idol’s "Dancing With Myself" and Blondie’s "Heart of Glass," which were reportedly the inspiration for those songs used on Glee.
"When we started this project, we weren’t expecting anything," Libaux says in a French accent as thick as Bearnaise. "We were trying to reach a few new wave fans like us. We loved new wave — the music of our teenage years. We wanted to do something original that was a bit eccentric, a bit strange. We had no idea they would reach the audience they have."
Some younger concertgoers, he adds, don’t know the original songs; even some of the women singers they employed for the first album weren’t familiar with The Sisters of Mercy or The Cure.
3 continues the band’s formula of female singers but with snowballing popularity, original songwriters and musicians are dropping by for album appearances. Cameos by Depeche Mode’s Martin L. Gore, Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen and Terry Hall of the Specials and Fun Boy Three pepper the album giving Nouvelle Vague musical cred far beyond the typical cover band. Even the famously picky Morrissey is allegedly a fan, which helps make sense of Vague’s cover of The Smiths’ "Sweet and Tender Hooligan."
"It confirmed that these guys knew us, because of the way we are recording the covers," Libaux says. "It was a great honor for us."
This tour and album have the band venturing beyond its loungy bossa nova sound. With French singer Camille Dalmais and Brazilian singer Eloisia along for the ride, Nouvelle Vague expands into country, jazz and ska genres.
"We had started to move into jazz and other things, and with this third one with wanted to move into some North American sounds, because we are fans of those styles of music, too," Libaux says.
If you’re a fan of new wave, chances are Nouvelle Vague will have you falling in love all over again.
Picking the right songs for V-Day is much harder than you think
Songs are an ideal way to express those warm fuzzies to your loved one, but it really messes things up when a "boy" or "girl" is sung out unexpectedly and inappropriately — the whole gender thing can take anybody out of the moment. (At least if you are as anal retentive as I am.) But here are some songs that might go into your own mixtape — and then into your baby’s heart.
"To Make You Feel My Love" — Adele: There are many covers of this Dylan song, but Adele sings with such depth, it’s impossible to go wrong as you light the candles with this playing. Consider this aural foreplay.
"I Wanna Hold Your Hand" — The Beatles: This classic for the guys is a total winner. Newbie love or long-term relationship, is anything cuter than handholding on Valentine’s? Nope, not really.
"Hello" — Sugarbomb: I get a tad choked up by this dittie. It’s just so "awww." The defunct Fort Worth band captures a bubblegum sweetness yet stays just shy of clichÃ©. The group’s out frontman Les Farrington, who co-wrote the song, still performs in these parts.
"Extraordinary" — K.D. Lang: Lang is always a go-to for the right tone but she knocks it out here. You are not going to go wrong putting your snookums on this musical pedestal.
"Be Gentle With Me" — The Boy Least Likely To: This band strips away any faÃ§ade with overt and charming honesty. But the tune is bubbly enough to fit right in with a box of chocolates.
"I’ll Come Running" — Brian Eno: When he sings "I’ll come running to tie your shoe," Eno escapes the over-the-top duties required by lovers. Climb a mountain? No way. This is much more feasible — and titillating.
"Heaven’s on Fire" — KISS: If you need to get a little dirtier and sexier, never count out KISS. They are surprisingly restrained here and don’t resort to all the female objectifying. And that makes this hot for anybody.
"My Life Would Suck Without You" — Kelly Clarkson (pictured): OK, let’s face it, not all relationships are perfect, but some put the fun in dysfunctional. Drama kings and queens have love too and thankfully, Clarkson knows that.
"Lovely Day" — Bill Withers: This is a closer that’s gonna seal the deal. It’s less romance and more tender reassurance that you’re Valentine is the right choice.
— Rich Lopez
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 12, 2010.