Elly Jackson, with her fair skin, fiery hair and slight frame, seems like a mythical creature who could disappear in a puff of pixie dust if you looked at her sideways.
And disappear she did for a few years while working on the second album for La Roux.
But thankfully, La Roux and her lovely soprano vocals made a welcome return to the 9:30 Club late Sunday night in a sold-out performance that included some strong new songs in addition to first-album favorites.
Jackson opened the set with new song “Let Me Down Gently,” a wonderfully lovelorn, mature recognition that love may not be going your way. Thematically, the song is a bit of a departure from most of the songs on the self-titled first La Roux album, which dealt largely with romance largely from a capacity of being unavailable, whether due to suffering heartbreak (“Bulletproof”), gaining wisdom (“I’m Not Your Toy”) or just being too awesome (“In for the Kill”).
While the lyrical content may have a different focus, the music is as wonderfully crafted and engaging as ever, which frankly made me quite happy given the departure of nontouring bandmate Ben Langmaid from the La Roux project. I saw Ms. Jackson and company a few times in 2013 as well, when La Roux performed at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles and again at the Coachella Music Festival, and she debuted a few songs, the beset of which was “Uptight Downtown,” also now released as a single from the upcoming album, Trouble in Paradise.
La Roux performed other new songs Sunday night as well, including “Kiss and Not Tell,” “Tropical Chancer” and “Silent Partner.” “Silent Partner” was a synthy stunner that stood out as the strongest new song I’ve heard outside of “Let Me Down Gently.” Overall, it was very easy to like the new songs quite a bit.
Of course, La Roux returned to the favorites that made the debut album so good. Jackson sang “Fascination,” “Quicksand,” “Growing Pains” and “Tigerlily.” Of course, she sliced through “In for the Kill,” always a personal favorite for its particularly spikey synths and unforgiving attitude. And the band returned for one encore song, which was of course “Bulletproof,” the U.K. #1 hit that actually broke the U.S. top 10 as well in 2010.
Although some observers have made as if La Roux has “moved further away from synthpop,” the great performance by Ms. Jackson’s strong backing band belies such observations. The band is arrayed in such a way as to defy tradition—with the drummer William Bowerman on stage right and keyboardist Mickey O’Brien on stage left, leaving Elly in the middle. Ms. O’Brien, cousin to a member of Radiohead, was a consistently shining star throughout the entire show, and she was sometimes joined on synths by Matty Carroll, who traded off on bass guitar from song to song. Ed Seed on a very dynamic guitar rounded out the band; he and Carroll stood in the back, giving visual emphasis to the synthesizers and drum.
Many new songs like the standout “Silent Partner” also relied heavily on the synths, giving a strong continuity to the music overall. This is still a sound that is strongly reminiscent of Yaz, The Human League, Heaven 17 and other brooding New Romantic darlings, and thankfully so!
Opener Big Data was one of the more enjoyable new bands I have encountered lately by way of being an opening act for a highly anticipated show. Led by producer Alan Wilkis, Big Data performed electronic songs such as “Dangerous” warning of the dangerous of national intelligence programs while being introduced by the booming disembodied voice of the “National Security Agency.” It was clever theater for a talented band. Of course, you would hope they would continue to evolve and make good music and avoid being trapped in a one-trick staple.
Still, at first blush, Big Data were very entertaining and enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed their very electro cover of “Private Eyes” by Hall and Oates. It’s definitely worth your time to hit the show early and catch them.
The ever-terrific La Roux hit the Music Hall of Williamsburg on June 11 and then return to the United States for some West Coast dates in July. Your faith in them definitely will be rewarded if it’s been a few years since you last caught them!