Marc Collin’s Nouvelle Vague, whose remoulding of English post-punk, new wave and synth pop songs into easy listening bossa nova has found a ready audience in the soundtrack of the Brighton TV drama Sugar Rush, is in London’s Pigalle Club for a three-night run to promote the French collective’s second album, Bande A Part.
Sassy sophistication is what both band and venue aim for. The band are more successful than their host. The recently restored Piccadilly basement venue, now owned by former Mean Fiddler boss Vince Power, divides its space between being a restaurant and a live music venue. Gig goers cluster miserably around pillars, against walls and behind tables, while diners endure being leaned on and shuffled past as they tuck in to 35-a-head meals. Everyone sups on jaw-droppingly expensive drinks (spirit mixers for 7-9, anyone?).
The similarly formed Jazz Cafe – one of Mean Fiddler’s London venues – manages the layout constraints better by removing tables from the ground floor level, placing diners upstairs. Perhaps such an arrangement at the Pigalle will help remedy its obvious teething problems. Certainly it would have made this evening far less of a trial.
On stage, Nouvelle Vague delivered their part of the bargain, swinging through covers of songs with aplomb. The Buzzcocks‘ Ever Fallen In Love was delivered with sugary bossa nova beats and Balearic acoustic guitar. A particularly inspired rendering of Billy Idol‘s Dancing With Myself had anyone who could find space to do so swinging their hips, while Bauhaus‘s Bela Lugosi’s Dead remained sinister despite its makeover. Electropop numbers included Yazoo‘s Don’t Go, a coffeehouse take on Blondie‘s Heart Of Glass and a scarcely recognisable New Order‘s Blue Monday.
Four singers take turns to purr formerly melancholic, angry or deadpan lyrics over the hubbub of diners and drinkers as though soundtracking a summer holiday. From time to time a singer picks up a cowbell or a kazoo, keeping the mood playful and never serious.
Around the singers are arrayed an accordionist, a double bassist, a drummer, an acoustic guitarist who also sings and, in a corner, Collin himself, lurking with a laptop and piano. The stage seems big, but the band and its instrumentation easily fill it, leaving little room for movement. The singers flick their hips seductively nonetheless.
A significant contingent of the audience is Francophone, judging by the between-songs burbling, and they are smiling as though charmed. Towards the end of the evening a concerted effort is made by band and audience to interact in a tiny strip between stage and tables, but most of us here to see the band can’t get past the tables to join in. Diners are implored to rise, but chairs and tables are in the way, and jack-in-the-boxing ensues as diners try to find space to stand.
A lack of original composition suggested Nouvelle Vague are open to the charge of being a one-trick covers outfit with impeccible taste in English music, great for dinner parties. As if to affirm such a take, the set closed with Joy Division‘s Love Will Tear Us Apart – the end to a frustrating yet by turns beguiling evening.