Last Night: Le Loup and French Miami at Bottom of the Hill

Categories: Last Night
Le Loup and French Miami
Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009
Bottom of the Hill

Better than:
Staying home and working on your sexy wood sprite Halloween costume.

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French Miami
There are far worse bands to take influence from than Animal Collective. At their best moments, those zany pop freaks sound ecstatic, primal, deeply rhythmic, and electronically charged. But at its worst, Animal Collective's amorphous songs refuse to gel, giving the live show the possibility of being a drag of shapeless jams and strange tidbits that never quite take flight.

Washington, DC's Le Loup has a strong Animal aesthetic, for better and for worse. The East Coast quartet loosens the edges of its songs so the music can exist in a haze of electronic effects and emotional ebullience. But, like its main influence, Le Loup gets too lost in its own mellow experiments live, making its performance one long set of indistinguishable tunes that trade driving sonics for trippy ambiance.
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Le Loup
Last night, it felt like the headliners were just throwing together some pretty little musical pieces and then setting them too far adrift. The songs comprised four-part folksy harmonies, a live drum beat, shimmery guitar parts, and an electronic wash coating everything with its cascading melodies--all of which hung together in a directionless haze. At times frontman Sam Simkoff played an autoharp, or the band gathered around an extra drum set to bang out a passionate Hippie Hill flourish of beats, but there wasn't enough diversity in their sound to keep the setlist moving.

The best songs added dissonance to the equation: harsher noise from Simkoff's control panel of sound effects, or a more spirited near scream to their chants, as on "Forgive Me".
Le Loup needed less of an even ride through their easygoing electronic jungle and more rollercoaster highs and lows. (Even album highlight "Beach Town" got lost live in a run of musical sameness). Halfway through the set, the band lost the back half of Bottom of the Hill to loud bar chatter, the front half polite but not acting very inspired by the performance.

In terms of energy, the touring band was outdone last night by the opener, local trio French Miami.  That band commanded attention from the start, two of its members pulling double duty on keyboards and guitars (sometimes both at once, the guys playing each instrument with one hand). The songs were built on sharp, staccato  math rock riffs and 80s synth technology (technology which broke down a bit during their best song, "Science Fiction," but even that didn't ruin their momentum).

French Miami merges emo's urgent vocals ("I was emotional, I couldn't get dressed...I wouldn't like your friends") with an infectious electronic buzz, putting their songs in a dancy post-rock (post-emo?) plane. Singer Jason Heiselmann announced a couple times that the group had just returned from NY (presumably from CMJ) that day, but there was no lack of energy in their performance--especially when they broke in the middle of one song, Heiselmann and multi-instrumentalist Roland Curtis kneeling in the fetal position before drummer Chris Crawford to feverishly chant an a capella version of the chorus "We get along."

Everything changed so quickly with French Miami there was little time for their set to stall. The timings, melodies, and vocal outbursts came and went in fiery flashes that were the opposite of the headliner's loud but far too meditative vibe.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias:
I went into last night's show a fan of Le Loup based on the group's new second album, Family. But I wish they'd push those songs in a more urgent direction, and cut out all the lackluster jamming.

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