Wednesday, February 15, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Cate le Bon w/ Pigeons

There is something irresistibly intriguing about Cate le Bon.

Cate le Bon
Though released in 2009, I came across her debut album Me Oh My just last year and immediately became obsessed with it.  Truthfully, I wasn't really listening to anything else like it at the time. Her unique brand of psych-tinged folk pop seemed out of place in my queue, but nevertheless it made me reminiscent of the time I went to France and in the course of exploring Brittany spent an afternoon traipsing through the labyrinthian grounds of a sprawling Chateau where footpaths overgrown with roses overlooked a lush river valley and springtime seemed eternal.

Cate's newest offering, Cyrk, delves even further into the psychedelic wanderings on Me Oh My; none of the songs would have been out of place on my Electric Lemonade Acid Test comps, or in a circus sideshow where both audience and performers are on hallucinogens. Cate's vocals are theatrical and haunting without being over-the-top. She seems at once mournful, chiding, dreamy, furious, and yearning. And again I am transported, wishing I could time warp to the streets of 1960's London, where I'd run around in a brightly colored velvet frock, platform boots, and a floppy hat. This is a desire that I probably haven't had since I watched Velvet Goldmine for the first time at the tender age of sixteen.

When I heard the Welsh singer would be making her way to Mercury Lounge to kick off her stateside tour in support of the album, I was filled with an overwhelming sense that if I went to the show, these flights of fancy would somehow be laid bare, that I could better understand their point of origin and in so doing clear my head of such visions. The voice would spring from between my ears to stage and become reality instead of myth. Either that, or rainbows would spring from Cate's fingertips and she'd give birth to a full-grown unicorn before our eyes.  

The show began insanely early. I arrived not long after seven and had already missed half of the set from openers Pigeons. Pigeons are another band that is difficult to... well, pigeon-hole. The first recordings I'd heard of the band featured songs sung in French, but apparently they hail from the Bronx. Lead singer Wednesday Knudsen (which sounds like a name only Jonathan Lethem would think up) is extremely tall and too skinny even to be a model, and her shoulders curl slightly over her guitar like a Madonna over Baby Jesus in a Mannerist painting. I caught Pigeons as a two piece at a CMJ showcase last October, but here the band played with their full live lineup. For fans of psych folk, I would definitely recommend catching one of their laid-back but beautiful sets. I would also recommend doing some kind of drugs beforehand.  

Cate took the stage just before eight o'clock, shrouded in a floral smock, her perfect auburn bob silhouetted by blue lights, bangs bluntly cut just above her smokey eyes. Her clarion voice was in top form as she tore through the set, and I was extremely impressed by the way she handled her guitar, at turns culling somber tones from the instrument and then wailing high notes at the next. She belted out the lyrics in measured breaths, swaying with each beat but focused intensely on playing rather than posturing. She implored the audience to come to the show in Hoboken the following night – with emphasis on the second syllable of Hoboken rather than the first, yet was gently teasing in explaining how to properly pronounce the title of the record – SURK, not KIRK. Her backing band was as instrumentally versatile as she, rotating keys and guitars comfortably through renditions of “Put To Work”, “Falcon Eyes”, “Me Oh My”, “Julia”, “Cyrk”, “Fold The Cloth” and others. Cate and Co. closed the set with both parts of “Ploughing Out” before she dramatically smashed her guitar into her bassist's, snarling the strings and leading astonished fans to believe there would be no encore, though it was not yet nine o'clock. However, after a brief absence, Cate returned for one more tune, this time at the keyboard. A video of the encore can be seen below.

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