With a hefty dose of coquettish charm and bossa nova kisses, Nouvelle Vague was the feel-good crossover hit of 2004. The release of the French band’s self-titled debut album delighted newfound fans with their penchant for turning seminal punk and new wave tunes into stripped-down acoustic jams, with a parade of international chanteuses adding their worldly flavors to each respective tune. Coupled with their beguiling live show, the band’s playfully refined concept spawned two successful follow-up albums with 2006’s “Bande à Part” and the aptly named “3,” released last June.
The juxtaposition of Nouvelle Vague’s jazzy, bossa nova style and subversive source material, like the Sex Pistols or Violent Femmes (both covered on “3”), might seem central to their appeal, but the actual concept was much simpler.
“I think [Nouvelle Vague is] kind of a tribute to these people, just to reveal their songwriting,” Marc Collin explains from the phone in his Paris studio. “I can always do covers of the Beatles or Prince, but you’ve got to do something about these bands who aren’t that well known for their songwriting—we’re going to try to prove that!”
“3” proves Collin right, as lyrics perhaps originally obscured under layers of eighties synth-sheen or post-punk noise now shine through sparse, unplugged arrangements with breathy, melancholic beauty, like on their treatments of The Psychedelic Furs “Heaven” or Soft Cell’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.” Stylistically, the band added more reggae influences for “Bande à Part,” and “3” benefits from an added touch of Americana, with the mouth-harped dusty take of Depeche Mode’s “Master & Servant” (recorded on “3” as a duet with DM’s Martin Gore) and slide guitar on Talking Head’s “Road to Nowhere.”
“I think we were also inspired by what Johnny Cash did with ‘Personal Jesus,’ so it probably gave me this idea to go in that direction,” adds Collin.
While Nouvelle Vague’s records are modern-day classics, their live performances showcase their talents at their best, with lovely ladies trading personalities and attitudes to shape the mood of each cover. This tour will feature Brazilian singer Karina Zevani, who also performs with Thievery Corporation, and Belgian-born French actress/singer Helena Noguerra—neither of whom were onboard during the ever-changing band’s last show in Chicago at Metro in 2006.
“I am looking forward to coming back…but how is the weather?” inquires Collin.
Cold. Dark. And primed for those bossa nova kisses. (Duke Shin)
January 29 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, (773)525-2508, at 10pm. $27.