In this era of the cult-status rockstar who can elicit bewilderment and terror just with facsimiles of his/her likeness, there’s something to be said for a band who can induce something a little more simple: a sigh, a swoon, and an audience of mesmerized devotees. And Cousteau, who modestly US debuted in New York City last month, in this way ranked among seasoned veterans—commanding the crowd with sly winks and nods, as if cool charisma pulsed through their veins.
Cousteau are masters of a sensibility that a little Ed Sullivan-esque crooner, a little ‘80s new romantic (think ABC), and a Bowie a la Let’s Dance. Lead singer Liam McKahey flaunts buttery vocals while posturing in a fashion that’s 100% hep—Chris Isaak meets Don Johnson in its savvy sexuality. The rich, viscous music that cascades from the rest of the crew bathes the listener in a luscious veneer, perfected in its delivery. It’s as though every band member rehearsed in front of a mirror to ace their look and affectations—from the sweet, stand-offish charm of Joe Peet on bass to the cocky, you-know-you-want-it stature of guitarist Robin Brown.
23 May 2001: Village Underground New York
Song after song, layer after layer, the whole effect becomes more intoxicating. As they sing and play, you could feel the room being transported back, until suddenly it’s in that space that you imagine only exists in Casablanca. Their single, “Last Good Day of the Year”, sounds like a song your parents or grandparents might have slow danced to. More pensive numbers like “You My Lunar Queen”, and “Of This Goodbye” overwhelm the room with their melancholy still. The drama of it all is rapturous, making the listener long for dirty martinis, cigarettes is long holders, and those times that always seem better in the movies.
With Cousteau, you have to be willing to let down your guard, and your pretensions. On the surface, it’s much more sedate and pointedly slick than most of the indie music that makes it across the Atlantic, and it’s easy to see how it appeals to the Burt Bacharach crowd. And while you won’t come away with an earful of cool kid rock and roll, you will emerge with a deeper sense of appreciation for the fluttering line, the smooth vocal, the theater of performance. Let yourself submit.