Editors' pick

Nouvelle Vague


Editorial Review

Christopher Porter reviewed a September 2006 Nouvelle Vague concert for The Washington Post:

"Is there a doctor in the house?" Nouvelle Vague singer Phoebe Killdeer asked. "We're not kidding," confirmed fellow chanteuse Melanie Pain. A cold had worked its way through the band, and the crooners were offering a VIP backstage pass if a medicine man would step forward at the sold-out La Maison Francaise on Wednesday.

Usually, it is hard to tell whether Nouvelle Vague is kidding: The French group interprets new wave and punk songs such as the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love," New Order's "Blue Monday" and the Clash's "Guns of Brixton" as Brazilian-steeped lounge numbers. Nouvelle Vague's versions are certainly lovely, but are they necessary?

But after seeing the band in concert, questions of authenticity and necessity became moot: Nouvelle Vague might be making a joke, but it's a great jape -- and, illnesses be damned, it makes for an even better live show, filled with joy and expert showmanship.

While Killdeer's throat may have suffered, her voice didn't. Sounding a bit like Eartha Kitt, Killdeer used dance moves straight out of a "creative movement" class for kids. The equally wide-eyed Pain also shimmied like a child, but her dime-store dress and wispy voice were the perfect contrasts and complements to Killdeer. Together they tackled a Dead Kennedys song about drinking too much to love, leading the audience in a raucous singalong section of the unprintable title's chorus, but generally they traded off tunes, backed by acoustic guitar, bass, percussion, accordion and just a hint of laptop.

While the Dead Kennedys romp was good filthy fun, it was XTC's "Making Plans for Nigel" that perfectly captured Nouvelle Vague's spirit. With Pain and Killdeer crooning back to back, accompanied by a gentle bossa nova beat, the band's accordionist stood behind them and blew soap bubbles. Kitschy? Sure. Fabulous? Absolutely.