Published Jan 28, 2010For a one-trick pony, Nouvelle Vague has had a long ride. The concept of reinventing punk and new wave classics as easy-listening tunes is showing surprising traction. The first two NV albums sold over a half million copies, and this Toronto gig came a day after the release of a new album, 3.
They never informed the crowd of this fact, but the record's covers of tunes like "Master and Servant" (Depeche Mode), "Blister in the Sun" (the Violent Femmes) and the rootsy makeover of "Road to Nowhere" (Talking Heads) were well-received by the near-capacity crowd. Less successful were takes on "God Save the Queen" (Sex Pistols) and "Blue Monday" (New Order), proving some songs are just too iconic for a makeover.
The French band's creators, guitarist Olivier Libaux and keyboardist Marc Collin, were unobtrusive (they never spoke a word) but versatile instrumentalists, content to leave the spotlight to their two effervescent female singers, Helene Nogueira and Karina Zeviani. No vocal virtuosos, they alternated lead vocals, and displayed plenty of charm as they cavorted around the stage. A silvery mini-skirt and sexy accents never hurt either. They cajoled the crowd into chanting "fuck" before launching into trademark lounge version of Dead Kennedys anthem "Too Drunk to Fuck." The audience also sang along to another NV signature song, "Love Will Tear Us Apart," a cover that works far better than you might expect.
Another highlight was an extended version of the Specials' "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" that showed off NV's musical chops, while the night's sweetest surprise came when Toronto new wave heroes Martha and the Muffins were introduced. They and NV then delivered a rousing version of the still-fabulous "Echo Beach."
A new Nouvelle Vague concept is to collaborate with the original vocalists on these hits - a smart move. Nouvelle Vague's approach proves that songs from this golden era possess a lyrical and melodic strength that ages well, and they impart the lesson in entertaining fashion.