LIVE REVIEW: French Kicks at the Troubadour, 2-24-09

The music of French Kicks.

Perhaps you’re at sea as the sun is setting and cool marine air starts to task against your naked, sun-courted arms.  There’s a threadbare and itchy wool blanket, just enough to stave off the chill.

Or perhaps it’s a collection of bedroom moments — the scent of lovers on sheets, their whispers and caresses — contained in a time capsule, then released in one rapturous, if fragile, discovery.

At the Troubadour, you literally could get your French Kicks on the old Route 66. (photo by the author)

At the Troubadour, you literally could get your French Kicks on the old Route 66. (photo by the author)

Or maybe it’s finding yourself alone in the wrong half of a bottle of wine late at night, the phone unforgivingly within temptations’ reach.

Or at the very least, it was the soundtrack to two girls making out front-and-center last night at the French Kicks’ near-capacity show at the Troubadour.

Whatever the case, French Kicks got off to a rocky start, suffering technical difficulties which left them temporarily bass-less.  Admirably, bassist  Lawrence Stumpf struggled to keep up his end of the layered vocal alchemy that makes French Kicks’ music tick as he fiddled with his non-responsive gear.

Things fortunately progressed from there as they settled into such numbers as “Over The World,” “Carried Away” and “New Man” — with its angular guitar riff that’s not dissimilar to the bass line of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines” – were it to have been recorded in sepia, run through a meat grinder and then rolled in shattered glass.

French Kicks wisely kept their hour-plus set mainly to selections from last year’s Swimming, the subdued, heavy-on-melody album that perhaps more than any other has found them at their most effective, and far removed from the jagged compositions that made up early works such as Young Lawyer, which had much more in common with their then-label-and-tour mates, The Walkmen.

To be sure, French Kicks’ most recent material is more often than not a balancing act, to the point where you wonder if air temperature and humidity might not affect their songs, so delicate are the propositions.  And while some performances were not quite letter-perfect at the Troubadour (with less-than-metronomic drumming being common), there was more than enough to love.  It’s not hard to imagine the combined vocal delivery of French Kicks as the indie post-rock equivalent of early Motown acts, and when their vocals were on last night, the sensation was not unlike an aural equivalent of chocolate melting on the tongue.

The show highlight might very well have been the mid-set “Love In Ruins,” which in the live context inherited a Stones-like undercurrent.  Oddly, the number that was easily identifiable as a crowd favorite — “Said So What” — came off anemic and imperfect.

Then again, that’s sort of the point of French Kicks.

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