Review: So Frenchy So Chic: Nouvelle Vague, Berry @ The Powerhouse, Brisbane June 14, 2010

By Denis Semchenko

  If indulging in French chic ever seemed like a good idea, The Powerhouse on the last day of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend certainly has a solution: the two-part musical program called So Frenchy So Chic and designed to bring the spirit of Montmartre to the River City. And so, as the French say, bienvenue – we’ve arrived to get our dose of Parisian charm.

At the Turbine Platform, the amount of hipsters in the crowd initially makes me think I’m on the set for The Bedroom Philosopher’s video – perhaps a similarly-themed follow-up to the notorious Northcote (So Hungover) – but we’re here to watch music rather that mingle with the trend-followers. For the first part of the evening, our host is the diminutive chanteuse Berry. Backed by two leather jacket-wearing, colourful-looking guitarists – one with long dreadlocks,

another in shades (making him look like a cross between an old-time gangster and a French cabbie), she sways and smiles as she sings the chansons from her French hit album Mademoiselle.
The lilting title track, Demain and Le Bonheur capture that rare melancholy only the Gallic artists seem to distil just right and both accompanying musicians demonstrate rare class, locking in tight interplay, throwing in jazzy licks wherever possible and generally grooving like real cats. Delivered in a soft, breathy voice, the moments of subtle beauty keep coming, the applause gets louder and by the time the high-heel boots-clad Berry sexily props herself on a stool for the final two numbers, the seated crowd is well and truly enraptured. 

Having already seen Nouvelle Vague here in December 2008 when they delivered a triumphant, incredibly uplifting and life-affirming show that comprehensively sealed my live music year, I don’t expect the world’s hippest cover band to disappoint tonight either. However, there’s a change: past singers Melanie Pain and Nadeah Miranda are replaced by Phoebe Killdeer and the former Miss France and Miss Tahiti (!) Mareva Galanter, respectively styled like a cross between a ’50s rockabilly girl and Judy Garland and a cat ears-wearing vixen.

As soon as the greeting cheers die down, the Parisians unexpectedly launch into the moody first track from arguably the most influential gothic album of all time, The Cure’s PornographyOne Hundred Years. It works well, though, as does Depeche Mode’s Master & Servant – which is given a strident, country & western-tinged reading – while Buzzcocks’ bittersweet Ever Fallen In Love merrily shuffles to a rhumba beat. Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself is likewise upbeat and aptly gets the punters dancing with themselves or whoever’s standing next. Everyone slows down during another familiar delight – XTC’s evergreen Making Plans For Nigel in its languid lounge guise.

Revving up the show, the big-voiced Killdeer attacks the kazoo while roaming the stage during The Cramps’ Human Fly, however her semi-deranged performance feels a bit rehearsed while the general vibe momentarily transpires to be somewhat less celebratory than 18 months ago. Done token NV-style, Gary Numan’s Metal likewise falls a bit flat, but The Clash’s rebel chant Guns Of Brixton picks up the groove and the attitude. On The Dead Kennedys’ jolly old Too Drunk To Fuck, the girls put on a display worthy of a burlesque revue, replete with the call & response routine (Galanter cheekily summoning a resounding “fuck!” going “all the way to Paris” from the excited audience members). The punk rock tribute ends with The Sex Pistols’ nihilistic God Save The Queen – dedicated to the Queen’s birthday – before NV take on early ’80s synthpop classics: Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough (given a full-on, percussion-heavy samba dressing) and New Order’s perennial Blue Monday.

The Violent Femmes’ undying Blister In The Sun is another deadset crowd-pleaser due to its lasting popularity with the Australians and The Specials’ weekend chronicle Friday Night Saturday Morning reaches anthemic proportions with its extended rocksteady coda. Having once again enchanted us all, Marc Collin’s finest bow out with their sublime, Brazilian-tinged reading of Joy Division’s heartbreaking Love Will Tear Us Apart, Galanter cooing the emotion-drenched lyrics in a tender, lullaby-like manner. Old wonders never cease.