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Elle Belle With Soft Swells And Lucius At The Satellite, Monday November 23rd 2015

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Elle Belle


On Mondays, Los Angelinos have the choice between many free residencies and it’s always a difficult choice at the top of the fact that it is, well, a Monday night… But let’s forget about Tuesday morning for once, I opted for Elle Belle’s residency at the Satellite, which started with Soft Swells, a duo playing luminous ballads going from melancholic to upbeat but always executed with the same fragile delivery. With a delicate guitar pop sometimes tainted of Americana with the use of a lap steel guitar, they had a pretty and uplifting sound, with distinct vocals and a slow diction, opening quiet soundscapes with echoes of Fleet Foxes, minus the vocal harmonies. Since Elle Belle’s Christopher Pappas is the bassist of the band, he came on stage to join them on vocals for what seemed to be their loudest song. While their moniker evokes ‘tiny, easy to ride waves that beginners keep an eye out for to build their aquatic confidence up’, they sent a few of these tiny waves and you could almost smell the ocean breeze.

Lucius was the surprise guest at this Monday residency, and what a surprise there were! A five-piece band from Brooklyn, which has recently moved to Los Angeles, fronted by two women making the most delicious vocal harmonies propelled by an explosive pop sound and uplifted by a lot of drums.

The Guardian featured them as its New Band Of The Day early 2014 and described them as “the missing link between Arcade Fire and Haim’, and if I could hear some of the sonic connection with these two famous bands, it would be unfair to Lucius’ sound… Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig were first standing behind two synths surrounded by their musicians and looking like twins with impressive matching stylish clothes and modern haircuts, then they gathered around an old fashioned mic giving a more intimate dimension to their expansive sound. There was also something so retro about their beautiful and lush harmonies, singing along catchy pop songs and a Phil Spector side managing to catch a more contemporary new-wavy vibe.

But don’t be fooled by these two women, if the idea of girlie vocal harmonies may sound soft and sweet, there also was a lot of bold attitude in all this, plus fierce beats produced by abundant claps and drumming. They gave us a superb and jubilant rendition of We Five’s ‘You Were on My Mind’, with perfect harmonies sounding like a more electrified version of First Aid Kit, and to go back to the Guardian’s analogy, Lucius looked like the missing link between the past and the future…

The band had style and punch, the guitars were in the back but still very present, and the whole set was jumping at everyone’s happy face, with great enthusiasm, symmetric aesthetic and a barrage of drums. The audience loved them and Lucius attracted the biggest crowd of the night. After an album ‘Wildewoman’ released on Mom + Pop two years ago, which does not capture the joyousness and the formidable energy of the band live, I guess they are about to release new material, as they played a few songs that they introduced as new.

Lucius came back on stage for two songs during the set of Elle Belle, which had to be a somewhat confusing moniker because Elle (she) Belle (beautiful) was actually a band of men, fronted by the charismatic songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Christopher Pappas. I should say that if they are a five-piece band live with Pappas on vocals and guitar, Anthony Polcino on guitar, Emeen Zarookian on synth / guitar, Casey Curry on bass, and Rob Humphreys on drums, Elle Belle is truly Pappas’ solo project, a new moniker to escape the frustrations of his previous band, Miracle Parade, and if I can’t really pinpoint his style based on the songs they played, the energy in display was as impressive as the diversity of their pop-rock-funk-fuzz style… Can I call it psy-pop swag? Because he had plenty of it…

Appearing in full Elle character with black make-up around the eyes which made him look like the masked avenger, Pappas had a wild energy, and a physical way to approach his music combined with a very laid back attitude, he was dancing around the mic, jumping in the crowd or on someone’s shoulders, lying on the floor along with his guitar.

Their first song ‘You Better Mean it’ had something of early Beck’s laid back and ferocious guitars, think Devil’s haircut era, while other songs were floating between 80’s rock and a synth-infused soul well served when the Lucius girls came on stage for the backup vocals… it was particularly true for the powerful, atmospheric, drum-bass driven ‘Rain in London’. But you could certainly hear a lot of diversity in his non-genre-attached music, that can barely be heard anywhere online… as the synth was bringing the 80’s in mind with shades of INXS or even Bowie.

He introduced a song as ‘a song about doing cocaine’ which was very appropriate considering he immediately admitted to have missed last Monday residency due to some legal trouble at a check point in Texas,.. He then affirmed his pride to have joined the happy club of Willie Nelson, Fiona Apple, and Snoop Dogg… The carefree sound of the song that followed had an almost Mac DeMarco poppy tone, while ‘Trouble Tongue’ brought a Smiths vibe.. at least this is what I got at the moment. ‘San Francisco’ with its western-y arrangements had a big catchy chorus and the last song ‘Failed Dreamz’ was like watching a big rock show, looking part familiar and part surprising. Elle Belle’s upcoming release ‘Baptistina I & II ‘ will feature no less than 23 songs, with a lo-fi 60’s esthetic, a party feeling and, I am sure, plenty of bravado.

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