Yann Tiersen Combines France with Brooklyn

by Priya Mulgaonkar

Hundreds of mildly energetic Brooklynites gathered at the Music Hall of Williamsburg this past Saturday night to have their senses transported to Monmartre, Paris by French composer and musician Yann Tiersen. However, anyone anticipating the sweet, sorrowful accordion crooning “La Dispute”, or the quirky sound of “Les Retrouvailles” was sorely disappointed. Rumors that his uncharacteristically American album “Skyline” would represent the bulk of his setlist were acknowledged, yet the diehard, 2001-Yann-Tiersen fans still prayed for at least one heart-breaking piano solo.

The night started with the mild, contemplative sounds of Felix, a three-piece British group. Lead singer Lucinda Chua’s velvet vocals, which were as chilling as the venue’s unnecessary air-conditioning, wandered mournfully over a dark, dissonant keyboard and high-hat heavy drums. The group’s chamber-pop ambiance elicited a number of pensive yawns from the audience, many of whom probably longed for a beret and some strong espresso to accompany this airy yet complicated music.

As Felix’s set ambled to a close, the arrival of synthesizers, an electric bass, and guitars led to some murmurs in the audience. The crowd erupts into applause as four, lanky, forty-something men gathered on stage and equipped themselves with their distinctly ‘rock’ instruments. The most distinct of them all (gaunt, stubbled, and smoker’s-lunged) was Yann Tiersen, who nestled in the corner of the smoky stage.

The crowd began bobbing heads and jerking hips to the unexpected indie-electro rock that burst forth. It was a somewhat pleasant surprise to see Yann getting funky on the bass, with the projection of “Skyline’s: album art glowing in the background. A tepid menage-a-trois of Passion Pit’s synth, Local Native’s vocals, and Owen Palett’s violin, the new side of Yann Tiersen was admittedly catchy and upbeat, with a hint of shoegaze contemplation. The audience was receptive, though they lacked the wild enthusiasm one may expect at such a lively show.

As the group’s single “Palestine” growled menacingly through the venue, the projection cast an ominous flashing PALESTINE in white on the wall, an artful yet mysterious display. Mid-set, a lone, passionate violin crooned “Sur le Fil”, much to the audience’s delight. However, besides the occasional appearance of the glockenspiel and the faint cry of the violin among the laser-noises, the rest of the set was much more Brooklyn than Burgundy.

However mildly disappointing the absence of accordions was, Tiersen’s bait-and-switch deserved some merit. The layered harmonies of the vocals contrasted with the euro-pop synthesizers, like a smile with a slight wince.  Admittedly, if Tiersen had to ‘evolve’ from his beloved Amelie-soundtrack style to another genre, he certainly pulls off the smart sounds of “Skyline.”

Priya Mulgaonkar is a contributing writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com

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