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Live review: Little Boots at El Rey Theatre

March 11, 2010 |  3:43 pm

The British pop singer's chilly YouTube allure fails to translate in a show that's long on techno trappings but short on charisma. 


The hooded gold-lamé riding cape seemed like a good sign Wednesday night at the El Rey Theatre, where the English pop singer Little Boots played a sold-out show in support of her debut album, "Hands."

Known to her parents and to the accounting staff at Elektra Records as Victoria Hesketh, Little Boots makes shiny, buzzing dance music that foregrounds her fascination with technology, and her El Rey concert actualized those gear-head tendencies.

In addition to playing keyboard, she at various points strapped on a keytar, plucked out notes on a laser harp and constructed loops on a Tenori-On, a futuristic Japanese gizmo that resembles a kind of musical Lite-Brite.

Yet Little Boots also appeared determined to demonstrate she's not just a technician. Not long after arriving onstage in the riding cape, she removed it to reveal a more form-fitting outfit, one better suited to prancing about while she sang "New in Town," a catchy "Hands" highlight in which she promises to "show you a real good time." Later in her hourlong set, she changed into a sparkly black muumuu (or the top half of it anyway) and pumped her fist as she rode the pneumatic disco beat of "Stuck on Repeat."

As fetching as those costumes were -- and despite a grade-A laser show -- Little Boots didn't really succeed in proving her pop-star mettle. The problem wasn't her material: Funny and sexy in equal measure, "Hands" is packed with small-wonder delights; it's the kind of pop record that sounds as good through headphones as it does on a car stereo. And Little Boots' three backing musicians did solid work at the El Rey, adding live-band muscle to the sleek electronic grooves.

Rather, she encountered an issue endemic to her new-media cohort: a lack of in-the-flesh charisma. 

Little Boots first built a following posting videos on YouTube that showed her doing stripped-down covers of songs by Human League and Cyndi Lauper; as seen on a computer screen, her deadpan delivery felt like a clever subversion of the over-amped Web space.

Onstage in front of a packed house, though, Little Boots seemed no more excited than she did in those videos, which gave the concert a deflated vibe at odds with the jubilant choruses and whooshing sonics.

For "Earthquake" she donned a bedazzled Phantom of the Opera mask and stood behind her laser harp, triggering ghostly synth tones by moving her hand through tall beams of light. 

Needless to say, this should've been a showstopper, the kind of set piece that's turned Lady Gaga into a must-see performer. Yet Little Boots didn't appear fully committed to the shtick, as if she was embarrassed by its goth-futurist excess. You got the sense that she was looking forward to her encore, where she played a dreary solo rendition of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill."

Earlier, Little Boots introduced "Remedy" -- which she wrote and recorded with Gaga's producer, RedOne -- as a song about music's ability to lift the listener above the mundane troubles of everyday life. On her album, "Remedy" redeems that boilerplate. At the El Rey, her act only reminded you that electro-pop hopefuls have problems too.

--Mikael Wood

Photo: Los Angeles Times