Pop & Hiss

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Live review: Au Revoir Simone at the El Rey

June 12, 2009 |  5:07 pm


If Au Revoir Simone didn't exist, someone would have had to invent them. The trio has one of the best implacable it factors going for them in recent memory -- a sort of Francophile synth-pop read of the Lisbon sisters in "The Virgin Suicides" that's compellingly veiled and sounds positively aglow. The band's new album, "Still Night, Still Light," is really endearing in a dreamy, suburban-gothic way. So why was its live show last night at the El Rey so unexpectedly approachable? And does one want that from them?

On stage, they have a very Kraftwerk-ian setup: an L-shaped bank of synthesizers and samplers, with an occasional appearance by a live bass. From the looks of it, very little of the set was pre-programmed, and the vocal harmonies were abundant and intricate. But under hot lights, the more ethereal qualities of their records get sort of humanized in a way you'd almost rather not know about them. 

Maybe it's just the lack of a drummer, but they weren't quite chilly enough to be commandingly standoffish, nor playing hard enough to win the room. Save for keyboardist Erika Forster, who at times was threatening to kick a hole in the floor while beating away at her synth rig, they played with the personality of a rock band but without any of the physicality.

That said, the good moments were very good. The 8-bit mod-wheel blowout "Knight of Wands" was a fine and lively set closer, and you just can't argue with as perfect and tiny a pop song as "Shadows." "Still Night" is getting pretty constant play in these corners, so maybe it's just a question of setting. Maybe Au Revoir Simone sounds better as a night-bus soundtrack than as a band who tells stories about how one of them accidentally dropped her in-ear monitor in the backstage plumbing. I bet they're really, really nice people to know in person, but given their sound and presence, on stage they might make more sense as a fleeting mirage than someone you could actually talk to.

-August Brown 

Photo via artist's MySpace