When an electro-disco group displays as much guitar face as the four-piece from Paris trotted out Monday night at the Velvet Lounge, it is time for that band to take a deep personal inventory. The whole Giorgio Moroder "From Here to Eternity" thing that the band has been doing for two years is clearly no longer working for them. Chateau Marmont, please, come out of the prog closet.
But don't just do it for your own sake - do it for the people who thought they bought tickets to an synth-pop show Monday night. The last act to be featured in a three-part series of electronic concerts sponsored by the French culture network Alliance Francaise, the band brought out enough synthesizers and sequencers to fuel six raging nights of Jean Michel Jarre tributes.
Instead, the audience got something between the "3-2-1 Contact" TV show theme and Rush's "Signals."
Chateau Marmont officially debuted in early 2009 with "Solar Apex," a galaxy-traveling EP that borrowed liberally from European space disco, Moroder, and Telex, the Belgian synth-pop group that made dance music history with "Moskow Diskow" in 1979.
In 2008 and 2009, they produced numerous remixes for big-name artists including La Roux and Peter, Bjorn & John, and released their second, more beat-oriented "Nibiru" EP last year. It's the story of a band that has experienced a few early peaks, but has yet to make much artistic headway.
To Marmont's credit, they seem to be aware that playing straight versions of their undulating synthesizer voyages ("Solar Apex," "Maison Klaus") could be as tranquilizing as a crop duster loaded up with Ambien, so the Frenchmen practically tore muscles trying to make their songs sound exciting. The result was four guys milking every time change, every bridge, and the simplest guitar work. The rule seemed to be: when in doubt, hold up your guitar like a prized white marlin.
Scenes like this may be one reason why disco is usually played by a DJ in a nightclub, and not by the artists themselves. Where Chateau Marmont's more recent, funk-tinged recorded tracks ("One Hundred Realities," "Helichrome") sound bright and transporting, they're far too hormonal performed live. Julien Galner's smashy rock drumming and Raphaël Vialla's imperfect live vocals - often heavily processed on recordings - were on full display, adding a propulsive, sexual heat to otherwise chilly songs, but ultimately duplicating the disenchanting feeling of meeting an Internet pen pal in person. The human energy was too carnal. When Vialla began to sweat through his V-neck, I longed to be back in front of my computer screen, watching YouTube videos of groups that made this music thrilling in 1982.