Words and Pictures by Rory O'Connor
It may seem like a strange thing to say about a band that strictly plays cover songs, but Nouvelle Vague has found their niche. But then, Nouvelle Vague are a far cry from the visions typically connoted by the words “cover band”. If their three studio albums and international touring didn’t already solidify that fact, then one only needed to be present at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall Friday night listening to the crowd demand their second encore.
Opening with their rendition of “So Lonely” by the Police, which was quickly followed by Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant”, the group’s set found them doing what they do best: converting 80’s punk and new wave songs into slick, lounge-friendly, bossa nova numbers. It is every bit the novelty it sounds, but that’s a matter the band’s founders seem completely at ease with. Placing themselves, and the rest of the musicians off to the side of the stage, the performance lies in the hands of a rotating cast of female lead singers. This night featured Karina and Helena from Brazil and France, respectively.
The live show is entertaining enough at times that it manages to eclipse the gimmicky nature of the project. The reworking and performance of numbers, like XTC’s “Making Plans for Nigel”, the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”, the Special’s “Friday Night, Saturday Morning”, or Bauhaus’ “Bela Legosi’s Dead”, which brought lead singer Karina into the audience to end prostrate upon the floor, would have been enough for an entertaining evening. While the show may not entirely satiate your desire to hear the original songs, at their best, the reinterpretations can shed a different light on each track. For example, the Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” went from a jittery waltz to a breezy, dreamlike glide and in the process seemed to change the song’s entire perspective.
Two reinterpretations that managed to garner some of the largest audience response though--the Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”--were some of the least inspired. It was in these moments that the true nature of the evening revealed itself. Make no mistake, the show was an enjoyable ride for what it was, but at moments you can’t help wondering just how much longer the ride will last.