Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Concert Review: Nouvelle Vague at Grand Central

(Note: The photos are from different shows, courtesy of Nouvelle Vague’s website)

For years, I’ve enjoyed the music of Nouvelle Vague, a French group that reinterprets ‘80s New Wave songs in almost-kitschy, always-inventive bossa nova arrangements recalling cocktail parties at ‘50s bachelor pads. In some cases, as with Psychedelic Furs’ “Heaven” and Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” their versions have arguably bested the originals.

But, as it turns out, hearing the band’s recordings without seeing them live is like listening to a Broadway soundtrack without seeing the action play out in front of you. Last night, the band played a 90-minute, 22-song set to a densely packed, multicultural – if not 100-percent attentive – crowd at Miami’s Grand Central. It was a show in the flashiest sense of the word. Not many concert setups have a dressing screen at the back of the stage, but this one needed it for the many costume changes required by the band’s three chanteuses (I’m assuming they were Melanie Pain, Phoebe Killdeer and Eloisa, though the band has so many great female vocalists, I can’t be sure). The tone-setting first number, a moody take on the Cure’s “Lullaby,” may be the sexiest performance on a stage that doesn’t involve poles and dollar bills, with a skimpy dancer slinking on and around the singer, tempting her like a succubus and really capturing the song’s deviant nocturnal danger.

And that’s how it was for the remainder of the show, with the singers’ wardrobe changes and onstage actions mirroring the songs’ essences in glamorous theatrical tableaux. The singers shrouded themselves in monkish black for “Ceremonial,” with its evocations of dark secret societies. In their version of The Cramps’ “Human Fly,” one of the show’s best numbers, the same lithe dancer from “Lullaby” contorted her body like the titular insect hybrid in an evocatively choreographed solo, while the four-piece band created buzzy sounds with an always-eclectic parade of instruments. Throughout the show, we heard upright bass, maracas, tambourine, Key-tar, xylophone and cowbell in addition to the standard guitar, drums and keyboard.

The Miami crowd was appreciative but distractible as all get-out, chattering loudly during slow songs and texting incessantly on their smart phones. I felt like I was one chip off an immobile boulder, and the band’s attempts to engage the crowd in such simple interactions as handclaps was a fool’s errand. Eventually, my obstinate fellow concertgoers did manage to sway back and forth, during the Lords of the New Church’s “Dance With Me,” but only after multiple requests by the singers to do so.

If the crowd finally seemed to wake from its slumber, it was during the closing number, a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk to F**k.” The band’s reinterpretation was so enjoyable it was impossible not to dance and shake one’s fists in the air in punk-rock fashion, while the singers collapsed into each other in choreographed inebriated revelry. It was a great way to end the show, topping anything the band would perform during the encore. And yet, as I write this, the song that most sticks in my head from last night is “I Just Want to Ride My Bike,” a catchy break-up song that was one of a very few original numbers written by the band – proof that once they’ve exhausted the catalogs of post-punk luminaries, they should be just fine shedding their covers.

Set list:

  1. Lullaby
  2. Blister in the Sun
  3. Dancing With Myself
  4. Blue Monday
  5. A Forest
  6. Human Fly
  7. Master and Servant
  8. Ceremonial
  9. (unknown)
  10. Marian
  11. The Guns of Brixton
  12. Dance With Me
  13. I Just Want to Ride My Bike
  14. (Unknown French song)
  15. Just Can’t Get Enough
  16. I Can’t Escape Myself
  17. The Last Romantics
  18. Too Drunk to F**k


  1. Oublions L’Amerique
  2. Ever Fallen in Love/Teenage Kicks
  3. Love Will Tear us Apart
  4. In a Manner of Speaking

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