Nouvelle Vague/Hanne Hukkelberg

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London - 11 July 2005

"Carefree, junkyard jazz plus bossa nova post-punk"

The Queen Elizabeth Hall is a great space. Unlike so many London music venues it was designed with acoustics in mind. Something that helped create a terrific sound with tonight's acts. There was an oddly misty, nautical feel to the opening moments of Norwegian Hukkelberg's set. I thought I could hear sirens. This was the first time I'd experienced (a strangely beguiling) combination of banjo and trash can and broom - I kid you not. Next thing, I could not suppress thoughts of a bright and breezy Doris Day. As if 40s then 60s incidental film music were jumbling up with neo-jazz. Maybe. This was a disarmingly eclectic performance. The comparison to Bjork is irresistible but fair enough. The carefree, junkyard jazz mood was perfect for a balmy summer evening alongside the River Thames.

[Nouvelle Vague]Headliners Nouvelle Vague made something of an impact earlier this year when no less than three of the tracks from their self-titled covers album could be heard on three different company TV adverts at the same time. Bossa nova post-punk Just a couple of months on from the album's release, this evening's performance was a total sell out. I picked up tickets as soon as I heard about the gig and we were in the second to last row - right at the back of the hall. Not to worry. The band members and guest female vocalists walked on. The stage bathed in green lights. A Forest with extra tropical forest sounds thrown in for good measure! Depeche Mode's irrepressible Just Can Get Enough reminded me of happy times. I noticed there was a great reliance on lots of samples. There wasn't much being played live. Not normally an issue but given Nouvelle Vague's dramatically different interpretations - it would have been nice to have seen them realised more physically, more live. Still, if they were heavily reliant on samples in the studio then I guess we were seeing how they were created.

The albums' array of female vocalists from around the globe were present tonight. Although French? chanteuse Camille seemed to get most of the songs. Which wasn't always ideal as she has a rather annoying tendency to enjoy herself too much. Awful I know, but her jumping around (actually skipping at one point!), giggling, running and pseudo coy mannerisms began to grate after a while and actually detract from the delivery of the songs themselves. The band's remarkable cover of Modern English's brilliant Melt With You demonstrates just what a terrifically strong song the original is. Even in the cover version here, its lyrical and musical brilliance shines across the decades and the genre bending delivery. Contrast this with PIL's This Is Not A Love Song the results of which were less satisfying. XTC's Making Plans For Nigel has a wonderful interpretation of the original's vocal line. There was The Undertones' (and Peel favourite) Teenage Kicks, The Dead Kennedys' Too Drunk Too Fuck and The Sisters of Mercy's Mariane (the latter a bit too slight to make any impression).

As if sensing it was coming, the audience were cheering and whistling before the opening bars of Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division. It was good, but not that good. The encore included Bauhaus' Bela Lugosi's Dead - complete with howling wind, tolling church bells and vocalists dropping to the stage floor - just like they were dead. When Camille introduced the next song as a cover of a cover I was slightly confused. In A Manner of Speaking was what emerged (and does not feature on the debut album). Now it made sense. Recorded by Depeche Mode's Martin Gore on his first solo album (also entirely of cover versions), originally recorded by Tuxedomoon. This was another great interpretation. Overall, less playing around by Camille and quirky, playfulness and I would have been happier. As much as the Nouvelle Vague album is a delight to listen to, tonight I felt that the support had it over their headliners.

Alan Strode