Dragonette are well on their way to finding a much deserved wider audience.
The band is about to put out its third record on Sept. 25 on the heels of a crossover dance hit, “Hello,” from their collaborations with house DJ Martin Solveig. The combination of Solveig and Dragonette has been nothing less than inspired, as the French producer has been able to write very catchy songs and sultry Martina Sorbara has been able to sing them with a now trademark sweet sophistication.
Dragonette has taken their lessons learned from collaborations with Solveig and others and applied them to their third album, Bodyparts, which really is a terrific dance record. They debuted those songs to Washington at the Black Cat Saturday with a sold-out audience that embraced the material new and old and left buoyantly as happy and giddy as the sound of the album.
The only downside to that, in my personal opinion, is the near total abandonment of guitar and bass in the new songs in favor of a musical experience that is much more electronic than ever before. The band already made its mark with the talented synths of Dan Kurtz, who is on my shortlist for greatest modern synthesizer player performing today. But taking a cue from house DJs and the like, the new material relies much more heavily on programmed sequences and electronic drums. By contrast, the material on the first two albums have a bit more heft to them because they are quite a bit more new wave songs, relying both on guitars and synths to deliver a danceworthy barrage of messages about sex and success.
At the ground level, Sorbara and Kurtz, who met and formed the band in Toronto, Canada, are capable of delivering powerful performances in the footsteps of other famous synthpop duos like the Eurythmics or the Pet Shop Boys (with whom they certainly share a certain sassy vibe). But it is their capability to fill out their sound with additional instruments in their band that gave them the punch to sound like “The Killers fronted by Gwen Stefani” as the All Music Guide cleverly describes them. Don’t get me wrong, the band know what they are doing. I just find myself missing the fuller sound of a song with more instruments. The older songs could be a little more new wave and a little less electronica.
Dragonette started their show brilliantly with “I Get Around” from their first album, Galore, which only served to remind me of how much I like the first album. They jumped into the new album with “Run Run Run,” a very catchy number that capitalizes on their ability to capture the quiet moments of their forebears like Yazoo really quite well. They continued the march into songs from Bodyparts, hitting highlights like “My Legs,” an energetic ode to spending the night out dancing, and “My Work Is Done,” one of the delightfully more complex numbers in the form of a battle call to start the weekend.
But then they remind me of the greatness of their second album, Fixing to Thrill, which I think is going to remain my favorite. The glam and even goofy dance anthem of the title track got everybody in the audience grooving even harder. The band followed that up with the more fragile “Easy” from their second album and the glammed up decadence of “Black Limousine” from their first. They also played Fixing to Thrill’s “Pick Up the Phone,” a song of fond remembrances for someone far away, as a medley with Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” which worked brilliantly. (The husband and wife team of Sorbara and Kurtz fittingly worked with Lauper on a song on her 2008 album, Bring Ya to the Brink.)
Of course, Dragonette revisited “Hello,” the famous collaboration with Solveig, and closed the set with “Okay, Delore,” a bouncy fun challenge to keep on going off the second album, and “Rocket Ship,” a lovely glittery song about falling in love from Bodyparts.
Dragonette’s actual performance was positively hypnotic with doe-eyed Sorbara singing and strutting in her best sugary sweet bravado. Kurtz and drummer Joel Stouffer kept the beats going and their sonic landscape paired well with a lightshow that lit the trio up like dancefloor astronauts. Sorbara was chatty and effervescent — and the band seemed as positively happy to have such a large audience as the audience was to see them.
Dragonette appear in Chicago tomorrow night as they continue to the West Coast for a string of dates in California and beyond. It’s definitely worth your time to see this great band getting bigger, even if like me you’re a little sad that the new material is maybe a little too polished and sequenced. Still, they are a top band in top form and I’ll see them again.