This was one of the most oddly-billed shows I have witnessed in quite some time. Allow me to explain myself. For the opening band we have Soviet, NYC’s up-and-coming ‘80s-inspired synthpop outfit. They are one of a handful of bands party promoter Larry Tee has adopted as a part of his booming Electroclash “movement.” Then we have the French house/guitar band Rinôçérôse headlining in support of their newly released second full length, Music Kills Me. Of course the parallels that bring these bands together are obvious: they both synthesize sounds, they both use vocals in some way or other, and employ at least one guitar. In this day and age, then, it would make sense that these bands would have an overlapping market of record buyers/ concert-goers, as it would also make sense that, after the show, some fans of one of the bands would be converts to the sounds of the other. However, the reality of these two bands playing together on the same bill was a little like seeing a cartoon short before, say, a French New Wave film, which of course is not necessarily a bad thing.
Rinôçérôse + Soviet
28 Mar 2002: Bowery Ballroom New York
Despite the band’s recent entrance into the media limelight, there were not many people on the main floor waiting for Soviet to take the stage. They opened their set with good force, as the five-piece group began playing “Marbleyezed” (from their new CD We Are Eyes, We Are Builders), a song that sounds like it could be a lost track from OMD’s Organisation (1980). Being a fan of this (seminal synthpop) music, I couldn’t help but be entertained for the duration of this opener. Soviet scored points for performing as if they were playing to a packed house when, in reality, there were no people dancing or banging their heads in front of the stage (this was, more or less, the situation during the whole show). When the next song began in the same synthetic beat style as the first (and then the third, and the fourth . . .) and continued to dwindle in energy (like the third, and then the fourth . . .), it became rather obvious that Soviet are only capable of writing one kind of song. I would even dare to say that, as a whole, Soviet are posing as an ‘80s synthpop group rather than injecting imagination into the old to produce something new and exciting. There seems to be a growing market for ‘80s fetishists attracted to the Electroclash wave who undoubtedly love (or at least pretend to love) acts like these, but Soviet fail to meet the musical audacity and brilliant performance of an act like their fellow Electroclash unit, Fischerspooner. Despite their one—admittedly—solid song, in the end Soviet are simply a poor man’s OMD.
Just a short while after this opening band stops playing, the Bowery Ballroom main floor began to fill up, and the lights began to dim as sitar samples flowed from the PA speakers. A spotlight focused on a skinny man playing guitar with blues-y licks. The lights swelled and the rest of the members of Rinôçérôse (a five-piece band centered around the husband-and-wife team of Jean Philippe Freu and Patou Carrie) came into full view as the audience cheered, and began what would be an impressive (and seldom-witnessed) wave of lively bouncing and dancing. A blown-up photograph of long-gone Rolling Stone Brian Jones appeared behind them: this was the first of a series of projected images that would accompany the group’s music much like another instrument would, giving the audience a sort of rhythmic visualization. The song, “Brian Jones: Last Picture”, began the set on a note of jazzy groove, which then sped up as Rinôçérôse performed numbers that combined their signature house music base with quick and infectious guitar riffs, and even disco beats (one memorable moment was when the sweet French-accented voice of Freu told the audience that one of their numbers, “La Rock Summer”, was “a little disco, but also rock”). The combination of three guitars, dub-sounding bass, inspired congo and bongo playing, and talkbox vocals a la Peter Frampton impressed in me the idea that these entertaining musicians are unwilling to part with any musical influence, so that each of their songs represents a collage/melange formed out of pieces of disco, Latin music, classic rock, Britpop, and jazz. They are a band that recognizes they owe much to those who influenced them. This became apparent—in both audio and visual fields—with one of their last songs, “Rock Classics: Vol. 1”, where the group performed this eclectic sound as the backdrop received the projected images of record covers ranging from the Smiths to My Bloody Valentine to the Rolling Stones, etc. . . .