Amongst pop and rock music fans (especially those of the High Fidelity variety) there are few hotter topics than the question of covers (performing and recording songs made famous by other artists). I‚Äôve tended to summarise the alternative arguments as travesty or transformation. Either the cover is a travesty, because the original was so great […]
Amongst pop and rock music fans (especially those of the High Fidelity variety) there are few hotter topics than the question of covers (performing and recording songs made famous by other artists). I‚Äôve tended to summarise the alternative arguments as travesty or transformation. Either the cover is a travesty, because the original was so great no other performance could compare to it, or it is justified as a transformation, because the new version brings some unique insight and interpretation. Personally, I‚Äôve tended to follow the later idea, since a general guiding principle for me is all great art is transformable – especially music, theatre and film.
The problem with this High Fidelity style approach is that it tends to take some music far too seriously. Very little of the pop music we consume ever approaches what we could call art. Most of it is, at best, biographically noteworthy ear-candy. Culturally relevant perhaps, but seldom culturally weighty.
Into this tension in our consciousness slips Nouvelle Vague, a clever French pop group who have made a name (and loyal following) for themselves by setting 80s new wave pop to vaguely bossa-nova-ish (with the emphasis on ‚Äúish‚Äù) arrangements. At their best, Nouvelle Vague transform their material, revealing a thread that runs from the youth culture of 80s back through the youth culture of the 60s – most notably their exquisite version of ‚ÄúLove Will Tear Us Apart‚Äù. But, to a large extent, the appeal of Nouvelle Vague is not transformation, but entertainment: the opportunity to hear an eclectic collection of 80s hits and semi-hits, played in a non-challenging (and not threatening) acoustic-pop format; dinner party music for the nearly-hip.
Both of these tendencies were on display as Nouvelle Vague performed last night in Hong Kong on part of their whirlwind tour of Asia (five venues in as many nights across four countries). They kept the crowd waiting 40 minutes past the scheduled start time in the drab and uninspiring surroundings of the Hong Kong Exhibition and Conference Centre. But they hit the stage with real ?©lan and soon had the crowd ‚Äúbopping‚Äù along.
It‚Äôs clear that Nouvelle Vague fill a niche. Their audience (judged on the night) spans the late 20‚Äôs to mid 40‚Äôs demographic. The atmosphere was light, frivolous and party-like. The band poured drinks for the first row (made up mostly of organisers and photographers), smiled a lot on stage and laughed off a musical train-wreck. It wasn‚Äôt really travesty or transformation, but homage. Not to the music; more to party-lifestyle of a by-gone youth. There was lots of the usual sort of b-grade crowd-participation antics (including a collective shout of the F-word). People were having fun (also check out this Flickr set with comments).
As for L and I – we had great seats; centre-stage, third row. I wish we had seats that good for the other, more compelling concerts we‚Äôve have seen this year. We left after the performance of Love Will Tear Us Apart and before the encores. As we walked home L said it was ‚Äúlike going to a Karaoke concert‚Äù and I couldn‚Äôt have put it better. In fact, Nouvelle Vague have entered a rare club, as I have only twice before walked out of a big-name concert before the encores (Poison and Phil Collins being the other villans).
There is an alternative to the travesty or transformation paradigm and that is merriment. If the songs are not really art, then the only thing that can ever be violated is personal biography and if the goal is simply to entertain a crowd then real transformation is not required. Last I certainly felt like I was at a party – but sometimes you go to a party only to realise you would rather be somewhere else.
[tags] Nouvelle Vague, High Fidelity, Pop [/tags]