By Henry Smith
The “up-and-coming” status of Echo Park has The Echo and The Echoplex to thank. Between the two busy venues and their next door neighbor, Origami Vinyl, Echo Park has a fresh hub for music. The larger Echoplex is located directly beneath The Echo and is only accessible through an alley off of Glendale Boulevard. I had had a few beers and was unaware of this Hogwarts entrance. Amblingaround the block again and again, I finally saw a man wearing an Echoplex polo.
“Hey, excuse me,” I asked him, “Where is The Echoplex?”
“It’s right here,” he laughed, “You’re here for La Femme?” I nodded quickly and hustled in. As soon as I made it through the entrance, I realized what all the hype was about. The space was decked out to entertain with a sizable stage, a deep floor with two bars, and plenty of standing tables scattered about. This was the perfect place to present the mysterious, synth-surf Frenchies, La Femme.
Music for the evening began with LA natives, Drinking Flowers. The four piece blared into their set with a wall of sound that shook the whole room. Unfortunately, nothing really changed for the duration of their time on stage. This surf-shoegaze mashup seems to have LA by the balls. There is a Cold War brewing to be the first band to pull it off – Drinking Flowers is not that band. Despite how huge they sounded, their entire set lingered around the same three chords and tempo. Hands were in pockets and heads were bobbing but the vibe was low. Save yourself a few yawns by simply checking out their recently released Shadow Show EP on bandcamp.
Hailing from Utah, but operating from LA, Sego was next to warm us up for La Femme. Although there were four bodies on stage, Sego is officially made up of guitarist/vocalist Spencer, and drummer, Thomas. The first thing I noticed about Sego was that they weren’t shoegaze or surf. Thank god. After the bleak drone of Drinking Flowers, Sego easily won the crowd over with groovy drums and fun rock riffs. Everyone was dancing as best as they could with a drink or a phone (or both) in their hand. However, the funky facade didn’t last long as Sego’s set became more vocal. Spencer’s melodies could be compared to ex-LCD Soundsystem pioneer, James Murphy. Unenthusiastic singing parts were rhythmically spoken to become something of rock and roll slam poetry. But what works for somebody as smart as Murphy does work for the pseudo artistry of Sego. Every hook was a cliche and it was murmured like a soft spoken but pretentious theater student. Lyrics like “Do what you want,” “Time is on your side,” and “Creatures, misunderstood,” had my eyes rolling by the middle of their set. I admit, I did feel like a surly curmudgeon for being so resentful of these pro-positivity lyrics. But do we really need more twenty-five-year-old singing about the misunderstood youth of today? Nothing is misunderstood about the youth of today. This is not the golden age of rock and roll. Today, the youth is what’s guilty. I could rant, but I’m already bordering along hypocrisy. To put it lightly, Sego’s message was deep if you’re shallow. The icing on the cake was Sego’s closer, “20 Years Tall”. Although the stomper had the crowd bouncing, the song and the set ended with Spencer smugly uttering “Roll credits”. Kind of a bummer, right?
After a pair of fine but forgettable openers, the floor was now jam-packed and eager to get a taste of Paris’ La Femme. The psychedelic sextet are out on a limited tour of the Western Hemisphere in support of their award-winning 2013 release, Psycho Tropical Berlin. In 2010, La Femme was a project between keyboardist/vocalist, Marlon Magnee and guitarist/vocalist Sacha Got. They now stand six players deep with Sam Lefevre on bass, multi-instrumentalist, Nunez Ritter, Noe Delmas on drums, and the enchanting Clemence Quelennec on lead vocals and keyboards. Psycho Tropical Berlin is a tall drink but it goes down smooth. Drawing from psychedelic, surf-rock, and spooky synth-pop, La Femme managed to create a surprisingly fun and original record. This band is layered in genre. How would it pan out live?
Grinning ear to ear, La Femme took the stage. They opened with a slow, haunting ballad before lifting off into their swirling – dare I say headbanger? – “Amour dans le motu”. Each member was more interesting to look at then the last. Quelennec did an incredible job of hypnotizing the crowd by ignoring her frontwoman responsibilities. Her barely speaking and little dance moves had my full attention. To her left was the charismatic Magnee, who had audience participation under control.
“If you have have the marijuana, for this song, you should smoke it! I would understand this!” Magnee suggested to the audience in a thick French accent. Needless to say, the people followed his request and smoked the marijuana while La Femme slowed it down with “It’s Time to Wake Up 2023”. Magnee hobbled about the stage shaking his half-bottle blonde mop occasionally falling on the front row. Of course, the song was the calm before the storm. Before the next song, La Femme worked the crowd with a bit more almost-English.
“FEHK YA!” yelled Got into the mic.
“You are all very coool tonight!” added Ritter. The Echoplex thanked them loudly.
La Femme closed the show with my favorite, “La femme ressort”. It’s a slow, jangly number with a great heartbeat. They ended the song, waved goodbye and walked backstage. Maybe two seconds went by before the underground club started their chant for an encore. And maybe two more seconds went by before a 100% more drunk La Femme returned to the stage. The encore was about twenty minutes of fast, futuristic surf jams. The crowd was dancing like they were at a graveyard party.
Clearly, La Femme were excited to be playing bigger shows in California. The band is only four years old and already doing a pretty fair job of conquering Europe and the states. This tour was a big deal. A lot of new fans and a lot new territory (including Tijuana the night following LA). Just like the record, the live presentation of Psycho Tropical Berlin is fun, excited, and got the chops to entertain. 2013 and 2014 were big years for La Femme. Will it stick? Caught at the fad of surf revival, La Femme is a hit and they certainly do breathe new life into the genre. But will their creativity grow with the years or stay stuck in their ego of 2014? It could go either way, but they have much potential to do some great things with music. The show was several days ago and their songs are still stuck in my head – and I don’t understand a word of it.