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Cate Le Bon Harnesses Tension at Rough Trade NYC

May 6th, 2016

Cate Le Bon – Rough Trade NYC – May 5, 2016

Cate Le Bon – Rough Trade NYC – May 5, 2016
Cate Le Bon is an alt-folkie with an art-punk problem. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Or maybe it’s neither and that she’s sort of an outgrowth of ’60s psych pop with a generous helping of unknowable, but still accessible Nico-style experimental rock. Or maybe you’re already pigeonholing her. Genre smashing is itself a pigeonhole: It implies a sort of off-the-rails collision of ideas and splattering of preconceived notions of what an indie-rock or indie-pop act might sound like. And as you watch Le Bon strut her stuff—torture that guitar, head bang, smile mischievously, artfully tease her bandmates in a faux flirty way—there’s no question she’s not only not off the rails, but of course well in command of whatever you call this, which can be poppy or delicate, sweet or tangy, angst-y or gnarly, but is definitely rock and roll with a touch of cultured madness.

Two of the songs late in her hour-long set last night at Rough Trade NYC, “Cuckoo Through the Walls” and “What’s Not Mine,” ended with protracted excursions, Crazy Horse–style peels of guitar noise and screwy-sounding sonic effects that Le Bon appeared lost in, and then smiled about, resolving guitar chaos into calm, goosing the audience that it was OK to look up from the bliss and applaud. Le Bon’s performance—including her usual three-person backing band mixing drums, percussion, basses, guitars and keys—was organized around the just-released Crab Day, perhaps her most complete expression yet in album form. So many of its songs, including that scraped-beautiful “What’s Not Mine” and its stabbing beat, the chilly “Wonderful,” the remorseful “Love Is Not Love” and the psychedelic and sinister “We Might Revolve,” find her not so much battling demons as trying to rationalize a whole set of wrongs and disappointments—trying to take the high road regarding certain problems, but maybe struggling to hold back the feral-cat anger, too.

The album sits on that tension, but Cate Le Bon the live show harnesses it, and you feel it in every song. That’s not to say she’s overwhelmingly heavy, either. Most of her songs feel like flexible things built to be stretched a bit. And where the band really connects isn’t in overindulged jamband-style progressions or endless build, build, build—that wouldn’t suit them—but in those snatches of improvisation and moments when it yields to a throbbing rhythm and the glory of a guitar squall, with or without Le Bon’s solemn, dark-tunnel vocals soaring above. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com