Going into Thursday night’s installment of Ooh La L.A! festival at the El Rey Theatre, I had one urgent question: Why?
Not only would the name of the event demand an unrepentant slap in the face if uttered in Paris, but the presence of The Little Frenchie food truck by the venue doors furthered the likelihood that the event would be little more than a haven for Americans whose sole regret was not having been conceived to Julien Clerc’s “Quand Je Joue.”
Instead, beyond the venue doors, hundreds of French expatriates and tourists alike flirted and laughed with each other, looking gorgeous in minimalist designer apparel and making this writer regret his own choice of shorts and a knit top.
The crowd ranged from wobbly teens to entire families, most of whom appeared to be reasonably drunk, happy and without any knowledge of the night’s quadruple bill, save for the fact that every musical act hailed from their homeland.
The up-and-coming Turzi kicked off the bill, beginning a night that could have easily doubled as a synthesizer expo. Flanked by towers of machinery, a la Moog and Korg, Turzi played to a slightly interested crowd. Though lacking structure, front man Romain Turzi’s psychedelic sounds evoked both North African Berber medleys and dirty guitars of Krautrock legends Grauzone.
Sadly, the majority of the attendees remained more fixated on their cocktails.
Adding another strange note to the event, the curtains would close between each set and for 40 minutes of veiled preparations for the next act, the El Rey would transform back into a nightclub. The traditional air of excitement at a multi-act concert all but vanished with each drop.
Similarly outfitted with vintage keyboards and accompanied by loops of hallucinogenic cartoons, duo Acid Washed managed to draw more people to the floor. Though the band did its noblest in echoing Cut Copy, both in its cool dress and grooves, Acid Washed suffered from badly timed synths and the same lack of pop sensibility that rendered Turzi’s set monotonous at times. If a mediocre night of club music in the United States consists of indiscernible G-Unit imitators, this is what it must be like in Paris.
Thankfully, it seemed a tangible portion of the crowd had come solely for the night’s headlining act: electro-lounge enfant terrible Sébastien Tellier.
Though his set was billed as acoustic, the hulking Roland synths and electric piano that lurked behind the other acts quashed any fears that the plastic soundscapes of his 2008 LP, Sexuality, would cascade through each song.
The curtains opened without warning just past 10 p.m., and Tellier, who wore a loose-fitting shirt and sparkling silver tights, launched into a glorious 45 minutes of sleazy bliss, accompanied by arrangements more beautiful and heartfelt than one would expect with such an act.
Though Tellier sported his trademark beard, sunglasses and unkempt hair that brings to mind Joaquin Phoenix’s current appearance, he more closely resembled the late Serge Gainsbourg or at least a sketch of the legend. His love of mischievous wordplay and intimate audience interaction injected the night with a much-needed dose of power and eroticism.
While swaying his way through hits such as “Divine” and the darker “L’Amour et La Violence,” Tellier seemed uncontrolled by anything but his most primitive urges. At one point during an abbreviated version of the lovely “La Ritournelle,” Tellier grabbed two water bottles from the stage floor and for a moment attempted to juggle them. Perhaps sensing the disaster that would ensue, he instead decided to bang them against his thighs for percussion.
The crowd ate it up, going wild when Tellier would sit on the edge of the stage and sing to a lucky few. When he finally left the stage, an air of disappointment wafted from the crowd, no doubt aware that his set could have easily packed in a few more generous numbers.
Thankfully, Tellier returned — an enormous, hand-rolled cigarette smoldering away between two fingers — and struck a brief but uproarious disco pose before serenading the audience with the proper, prolonged version of “La Ritournelle,” savoring the simple yet beautiful piano medley that built until Tellier’s amorous vocals drove the epic number home.
DJ Kavinsky closed the night with an occasionally blistering set of tracks, including his signature “Testarossa Autodrive.” As the decks blinked away, the crowd slowly funneled out into the stagnant L.A. night, some unsure of what they had witnessed but weirdly enthralled nonetheless.