So, I'm not sure if it's a snobbery thing going on, a misguided preconception, an inherent built-in reluctance or just a discriminatory flaw in my psyche, but I have never fancied seeing a tribute band or a covers band for that matter. I've always thought there's too much good stuff to see anyway without having to resort to a lookie-likey or someone who's potentially going to murder one of your favourite tunes. Why have a knock-off, fake, imitation or pastiche when you can have the real thing? I know in certain cases you can't have the real thing. You can't see Pink Floyd, The Smiths, The Beatle etc., but you can see some cracking new acts instead, so why wallow in nostalgia?
A French New Wave covers band that incorporates all that New Wave can mean, including a large slice of Bosa Nova, that dare to even attempt such highly regarded, cherished and seminal songs in their set as 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' and 'Guns Of Brixton' is either a great place to start or utter madness. Thankfully, it is not the latter. Having discovered Nouvelle Vague many years ago when hunting for material that would get people scratching their heads over a very competitive after dinner game of 'intros', I have never looked back. Tonight, however, was the first time I'd caught them live.
To celebrate fifteen years since the release of their self-titled debut album, Nouvelle Vague have embarked on a sizable tour in celebration. Tonight the NV party came to The Ballroom at Dreamland in Margate. After a balmy Easter Saturday's weather that saw the golden sands, amusements and promenades of Margate bustling with Bank Holiday crowds, it was time for something a little more surreal in the Art Deco splendour of Dreamland.
As the eager, and in some cases impatient, audience found their places in front of the stage there was a huge, almost palpable lift in the atmosphere as the male members of Nouvelle Vague took to the stage and started to play. Visage's 'Fade To Grey' was given a chic, laidback French make-over. As the instruments were played, the vocal came through the speakers. With nearly everyone focused on the stage the crowd may have been forgiven for thinking this was a backing track but, oh no, the two female singers, Elodie and Melanie, entered from the back of the room and slowly worked their own way through to the stage as they sang.
In dresses befitting their Art Deco surroundings, Melanie and Elodie worked the room as they either dueted or took lead vocal duties in their own right. The livelier tempo of The Ramones' 'I Want To Be Sedated' gave way to a cracking, very well received take on the Buzzcocks classic 'Ever Fallen In Love', and a brilliantly interpreted version of The Dead Kennedy's staple 'Too Drunk To.F**k'. The juxtaposition of elegant and sophisticated Europeans making a potty mouth Punk song all their own was a delight to watch.
Elodie's take on The Cramps' 'Human Fly' was a further highlight as was the ladies' second turn around The Ballroom dancefloor when they dropped down from the stage and sang 'Dance With Me'. The Violent Femmes' 'Blister In The Sun' built up the BPM again before a very dark, slow and haunting performance of OMD's 'Enola Gay'. The dim red lights were lifted for only the second and third tracks off of the band's first album for a clear crowd pleaser in the form of 'Guns Of Brixton' and a masterfully arranged slice of 'Friday Night Saturday Morning'. Melanie had somehow managed to take the singing style of Terry Hall and adapt it to her own but in a way that worked wonderfully well. If Terry Hall had a French sister this is how she would have sounded without a doubt.
The final act of the main set was reserved for arguably the biggest song from Nouvelle Vague's debut album. As Elodie took centre stage and composed herself you knew something big was coming and she didn't disappoint. With the crowd hushed the first notes played and Elodie sang out the first line, "When routine bites hard, and ambitions are low". A small cheer went out and the audience joined in. "This is your song", Elodie said as she turned the mic on the crowd for them to sing-a-long. The vocal was perfectly delivered as the band played out one of their best, if not the best, cover versions. After a brief break the band returned for a three track encore that included 'Killing Moon', a song that used a revolving vocal exchange as well as a revolving pair of vocalists and 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)'.
In a small corner of England, a French band playing Bosa Nova covers of Punk, Electro and New Wave classics had shown why their popularity has not waned and why they are still cherished today. Far from being a novelty act, Nouvelle Vague are instead master craftsmen and women breathing new life into old songs by way of inspired arrangements. By making each song their own rather than just playing it how it was previously intended, they bring something new to the table, and in doing so, make sure that they are so much more than just a covers band.
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