Music review: Shy La Roux still brings the party to 9:30 Club

WASHINGTON WAITED: Androgynous British pop singer Elly Jackson and her three-piece band had to postpone their concert twice.
WASHINGTON WAITED: Androgynous British pop singer Elly Jackson and her three-piece band had to postpone their concert twice. (Kyle Gustafson For The Washington Post)

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting to 9:30 Club took some big-time effort on La Roux's part. Over the past year the British electro-pop singer also known as Elly Jackson has booked, then canceled, three separate gigs at the venue -- two bagged due to illness, one quashed by snowmageddon. When the ultra-coiffed 22-year-old finally stepped onto the stage before a sold-out crowd Wednesday night -- her ginger hair whipped up like a bronzed ice-cream cone -- she didn't make much noise. At least, not by normal pop-star standards.

But that's a big part of her charm. Today's mini-divas -- think Robyn, Lily Allen, etc. -- lean hard on bombast. Onstage, on record, and on Twitter, they keep the volume cranked. Jackson is more conservative. She has a wispy voice that's unequipped for theatrical caterwauling. Her economical three-piece band -- two keyboard players and a synth-pad-stroking drummer -- left her a lot of room to move on stage, but she seemed uncertain how to use it.

Never mind her moves, though. La Roux is more of the introspective type. She performed a one-hour set of songs from her self-titled 2009 debut -- a record of smartly arranged pop that draws inspiration from '80s new-wave acts like Yazoo and the Eurythmics. What the tunes lacked in explosive attitude, they make up for in tenderness. Her singles -- club-ready fare like "Bulletproof" and "Quicksand" -- were steady enough to get the crowd bouncing. Three-hanky ballads -- the Prince-worthy "Armour Love" -- were targeted toward the wallflowers. She even whipped out a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb," which, given her androgynous attire, made for some interesting gender-role bending.

La Roux is not a mope, but she's not a party girl, either. She's the cool tomboy who makes nerdiness seem cool and heartbreak seem endearing. Were you to cast a starlet-studded remake of "Pretty in Pink," La Roux would make a good Duckie. She might not pop on stage, but she's got your headphones covered.

-- Aaron Leitko

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