Something’s gone wrong with CSS. Tonight’s set is at the teeny tiny Hoxton Square Bar + Kitchen, a venue chosen presumably to test the Brazilian band’s new line-up and material at a low-key club show; the kind of sweatbox dive they should really have ripped the roof off. But this CSS isn’t the pulsating party machine of yore; it’s a struggling, stagnant shell.
They’re trying so hard – probably too hard – Lovefoxxx’s twirling and shimmying aims for a day-glo Stevie Nicks but comes off like a drunk 15 year old at a Björk show. Luiza Sá windmills her hair and bops up and down for all she’s worth, but nothing seems to connect.
Partly it’s because the new material, to be blunt, isn’t very good. There’s little of the schizoid mix of intensity and fun that marked the first two CSS records as must-have party music for the late-noughties. You sense the band know it too, deep down, but they just don’t seem to care. Partly the fault is Lovefoxxx’s who, never a vocalist known for technical prowess, wobbles off key constantly. You want to grab her by her adorable shoulders and shout “TAKE IT SERIOUSLY” but you get the impression she’d just laugh and throw glitter in your eyes. This isn’t a group currently inhabiting planet give-a-fuck. In the past that attitude was massively appealing, but back then it was backed by razor sharp pop music and glorious, MDMAzing live energy bafflingly absent tonight. One new song, Dynamite, gets close to some of that controlled chaos, but it is let down by a topline its vocalist just can’t manage.
Watching CSS has always felt like being at a party where the drunkest, funnest, coolest guests have decided to climb on stage and form a band, and then wowed you by actually being brilliant. Tonight it’s like those same guests have formed that same band, but managed to be completely balls at it, which they find funny, and everyone laughs at. During Art Bitch Lovefoxxx actually does jump off stage to go party in the audience, bringing it full circle. It would be fun if everyone hadn’t paid to see them.
Of course there IS something missing here. Founder Adriano Cintra, the one that wrote the songs and generally and took the music seriously, quit a year ago, frustrated – according to rumour – by his band’s inability to get any work done, and indeed some members’ less than virtuoso musical gifts. CSS were formed as a party band, as a joke almost, but thanks to Cintra they also had a grounding force and brilliant songs. His absence from bass duties leaves a massive hole that makes his colleagues come off as art-school amateurs, never more apparent than on Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above and Music Is My Hot Hot Sex; two of the best indie-dance singles of the past decade tonight rendered flat.
Proceedings close on a newie, the Dave Sitek produced I’ve Seen You Drunk Girl And You’re Not Drunk Yet, a bouncy, sweaty hip-hop pastiche that sees Lovefoxxx dueting with Ana Rezende like a School disco Salt n Pepa. It’s catchy, stupid, energetic and a really, really fun. Just for a minute the magic is nearly back; just for a minute there’s hope for the new CSS. But it’s not enough.