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Cousteau

(18 Jul 2002: The Hideout — Chicago)

Cousteau is something of a secret, so it’s fitting that they are playing a little, hidden club like The Hideout. The only other sign of life in this wasteland-like, warehouse neighborhood is a Home Depot. It’s almost like a dilapidated, darkened roadhouse in the bar; Cousteau must feel right at home.


Made up of various citizens of the UK, Australia and Ireland, the band is playing two nights on this relatively tiny stage in support of their second CD, the just-released Sirena. The six-piece band (minus key member Davey Ray Moor who couldn’t tour due to work visa snafus) entered to the cheers of the small but die-hard crowd that lounged under strings of white Christmas lights. Lead singer Liam McKahey dripped charisma as he shed his black suit-coat, revealing tattooed-covered arms. He was Morrissey after a year at Bally’s and $2,000 in Body Ink gift certificates.


The band opened with selections from their 2001, self-titled debut. “Your Day Will Come” is pure Scott Walker torch song. Live keyboards fill the place of the studio version’s lush strings and horn parts. Guitars (both electric and acoustic) rang with tremolo and echo. Who knew that “live” could sound so polished? “The Last Good Day of the Year” followed with more darkly romantic moments. Liam, emoting like a seedy version of Chris Isaak, really is the focal point of Cousteau. His creamy baritone never loses pitch or power, no matter how many drinks or smokes he’s had in the past.


Cousteau, a group that I’ve heard criticized as a “poor man’s Tindersticks”, has much more going for it than some kind of one-note tribute band. As they continued on through the steamy hot summer night, more and more influences jumped out. The darker moments of David Bowie’s Young Americans album and the lush, witty parts of ‘83-era Elvis Costello came to mind. Disparate? Yes, but somehow it all works smoothly. Mid-set they hit “Jump in the River”, a song that the aforementioned Morrissey would give his back teeth for, if only the former Smiths-man would stop fearing the soulful end of the musical spectrum. It wasn’t coincidental that the video screen in front of the stage (lowered before they began) was playing undersea footage, in swatches of aqua and indigo waters. The men of Cousteau play a soundtrack to deep sea exploration, themes of diving and emotionally drowning abound.


The band sprinkles the set with a few selections from the new CD like “She Bruise Easy” and the sumptuous “Nothing So Bad”, but also stick to a healthy dose of older gems. Closing with an aching “Wish You Were Her” and “She Don’t Hear Your Prayer” (which comes off like a Britpop hit for dirty glamorous brethren like Suede or Pulp), the men slink off for drinks and sleep. So, after all this praising to high heaven, will Cousteau become a buzz-band in the U.S.? Are they too dark, too smooth, too moody, too everything? Probably.


Don’t worry though. We can keep Cousteau as our dirty little secret.

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