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La Roux, July 27th @ The Troubadour

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For the uninitiated, La Roux are the current (and richly deserving) darlings of England's resurgent synth-pop scene. After emerging last Fall as though they sprang fully formed from the head of drum machine Zeus, the London-based duo (singer/keyboardist Elly Jackson and keyboardist co-writer Ben Langmaid) has gone from "who?", to "Holyfuckingshit" in less time than it took the Bush Administration to hoax the Democratic caucus into accepting their transparently idiotic WMD claims. Their first single, "Quicksand", recorded before they even had a proper record deal, debuted in December and quickly became an international iPod staple. In short order, they subsequently:

* Released their second single, "In For The Kill" in March, 2009. It eventually peaked at number 2 in the British charts.
* Saw their most recent single, the sickeningly brilliant "Bulletproof" enter the British Charts at number 1.
* Released their Debut album, which entered the charts at Number 2 and was briefly the highest selling British debut of 2009.
* Have already been nominated for a prestigious Mercury Prize.

Not bad for a band who's public profile is younger than Mel Gibson's illegitimate child. Better still that they blasted a hole in the Troubadour's walls and proved, for once, that the hype is an understatement.

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With barely any fanfare (aside from a quick "Please Welcome..."), La Roux took the stage to face an full capacity audience of West Hollywood's stylish confirmed bachelors1, LA Anglophiliacs, music industry parasites, and stunned them into ecstatic silence with an almost flawless 10 song set that highlighted the best of their debut album.

That album is a collection of sharp, nearly perfect songs about breakups, heartache and the other pitfalls of relationships that practically vibrate with the "no-fuck-you-I-insist" spirit of owning one's pain, and refusing to let the person who broke your heart win by feeling sorry for you. With abattoir-sharp hooks, it's more aggressively melodic than anything released this year.

La Roux has received nearly constant comparisons to England's 80s Synth Pop golden age, and their debut is instantly familiar to the point you almost wonder if it's a collection of covers. It practically glows with technical precision, bearing a slick, almost frictionless production style that also pulls off the neat trick of obscuring the surprising complexity of La Roux's compositions, and the richness and versatility of singer Elly Jackson's gorgeous vocals. Those vocals are the rock on which La Roux's success is built, thus one might get the impression that considerable auto tuning occurred during recording, but as seen on Troubadour, she is, in fact, that good. Rarely does one see a performance nearly identical to a band's album that isn't also inflexible and boring, but anything less that what they delivered in the studio would have been, to understate, disappointing. As it turns out, she's a pitch perfect, voice-of-an-angel goddess with mesmerizing stage presence and voice so pretty it feels fictitious.

Due to her futuristic appearance, Jackson is frequently compared to Annie Lennox, which is somewhat fair since they're both skinny, androgynous British redheads who don't sound even remotely the same so, no, this is not a valid comparison unless you believe that all such women are interchangeable musical legos. Which we do. And that is why we intend to start insisting Elly Jackson is the new Tilda Swinton.

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(See? Not Annie Lennox.)
La Roux's songs were written in the aftermath of a significant breakup, and it's apparent from the defiance in Jackson's performance that she still isn't faking it. Particularly, during a spirited rendition of In For The Kill, she appeared to actually be on the verge of angry tears. As for the overall show - now augmented with the addition of a synth drummer and second keyboardist - it had a refreshing looseness not normally a part of electropop, made possible by having escaped the unrelenting discipline of a drum machine. It was delightfully Culture Club-esque, a nice counterpoint to Jackson's epic sci-fi charisma.

It's always said that one should always leave the audience wanting more, but there's building anticipation, and then there's just being a tease and La Roux left us with a serious case of blue ears. By the time they ended (with the show stopping, crowd igniting "Bulletproof"2), it felt like the start of intermission rather than the end. Of course they are approximately eight months, three singles and one album deep into their career; twelve songs, and only twelve songs, so it's inevitably going to be a short show. Even so, out of these twelve, they did ten. On the other hand, the brevity spared us from the now requisite cliche that is the unnecessary encore and for that, a weary world is grateful3.

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Normally, a packed room full of fanatic fans eager to see what is essentially a band's coming out party should indicate the start of a blistering rise to the top. Unfortunately, anytime the Dandy Fops of Merry Ole England send something brilliant our way, there is a 50-50 chance that American consumers will fail to like it. Something about music that doesn't treat the listener like a fucking idiot really pisses us off. My fingers remain crossed that this time will be different, that I witnessed history, but even if we can't be sure of that for a few more years, we can confirm, with absolute certainty, that this show was an unmitigated success.

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If they can keep from becoming cokeheads4, don't become a couple5 or end up hating each other6, La Roux might just have long, brilliant career ahead of them. One looks forward to epic, Pet Shop Boys style tours, concept albums, restrospectives and the inevitable solo album that might be almost as good as the band itself.

At the very least? It will be nice to actually see a show lasting longer than it takes to find parking in West Hollywood7.

All photos by Greg Prink.

1) Hiooo.
2) Hearing a couple of hundred people shouting "this time, baby, I'll be bulletproof" at the top of their lungs like they meant it was... affecting. This isn't just the best breakup dance song since "Who Needs Love Like That?", mark my words, this is the pop single of 2009.
3) The Encore should be a response to overwhelming demand, preferably after an artist has had a lengthy enough career to have amassed a body of work too massive for a single show. Unfortunately, the encore has degenerated into a tedious Kabuki ritual, in which the band pretends to end their set, and the audience pretends to be pleasantly surprised and enthusiastically supportive when the band "spontaneously decides" to come out for another 3 to 6 songs. Worse, the 3 to 6 songs are always perfectly practiced. HINT: If you already planned to play them, and already practiced them to perfection over and over, that isn't an encore - that's a set.
4) Like every single New Romantic or Brit Pop band.
5) Like the Eurythmics and, allegedly, members of Culture Club.
6) Like The Smiths, or Blur in this decade.
7) Note to The Troubadour: Fuck your parking. 15 dollars for the privilege of leaving your car unsupervised, in a poorly lit lot across the street, is outrageous. It's only because this was La Roux that I didn't turn around and go home. At some point people will decide, as I now have, that paying more to park than it costs to get into the venue isn't worth it. In all likelihood, and regretfully, La Roux was my last weekend Troubadour show.