Juliette Lewis and the New Romantiques
I am going to be banal.
Juliette Lewis a “Natural Born Killer” tonight wished to be a natural born rocker. Achieved, from an acting perspective, though.
I doubt she has ever killed anyone (just guessing) and she can’t truly rock (witnessed).
The banal observation is that an actress, moving from acting to become a rockstar, in reality still looks an actress personifying the role of a rockstar.
Juliette Lewis symbolizes a rockstar because she is a professional actress that has achieved her dream: to be a rock singer.
Is there a problem to this?
Well, the problem arises when you see her aspiration to be part of the alternative rock circuit. The stress is all on the “alternative”.
History of Rock is plenty of fake music acts, the Kiss and most of Glam-Metal, the Spice Girls and majority of chart-topping glossy-pop. These marketing products are intentionally adulterated. Theatre and rock-show merge into one thing and this is perfectly accepted by the fans (and the musicians).
Alternative, indie, call-it-however-you-like, works differently.
It developed and blossomed on strict unwritten rules to react to all excesses of pop and rock.
I have to acknowledge Wendy Fonarow’s to have written those rules on her wonderful book, Empire of Dirt, to emphasize authenticity. Authenticity is everything in this small world.
The moment a performer looks forged, the moment the show looks staged, the moment the moves look prepared, that moment the performance implodes. Becomes unconvincing and fails to deliver.
Being credible is more important than being a good singer or a talented musician.
I can’t stop thinking at the Akron/Family concert I witnessed just few days after Juliette Lewis gig. A band so immersed in what they were playing, communicating their emotions to the audience through the music.
There is no need of a magic touch to spot it, when such an integrity is present is perceivable. For the “indie-rock” fans it is paramount.
For Juliette Lewis, Paramount is still an Hollywood motion picture company, and her performance tonight has the feeling of a very good Hollywood number.
She came to Koko for a special club NME night with her new band, The New Romantiques.
The Licks, her previous companions, had been sacked in order to get her music a new “groove”.
She repeats this “groove-groovy-groovier” words at any interview, press release and concert which builds up the sensation of “prearranged” i have.
The change of the name from the Licks to the New Romantiques, the bucolic cover picture and the press release suggest a mellower sound, a drift towards more comfortable beaches. Not really, not tonight. Wrong speculation.
In reality Juliette arrives on a super energetic grrrrrrriot girl mood and carries on for an adrenalized hour working really hard to impress… impress herself, before the fans.
From the first moment she looked to overplay a role. The rock singer role.
Running, screaming, jumping, flirting, waving her hair, swearing.
A rebelliousness that appeared exaggerated hence out of place.
Terra incognita, The New Romantiques upcoming album, due in the next months, it’s highly talked also because a “big name” of the emerging alternative circuit, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez by Mars Volta, signs the production credits.
Listening to the tracks availble on myspace, Rodriguez-Lopez touch is pronounced. Arrangments are carefully curated, instruments are recognizable, keyboards, guitars, scattered drums emerge clear and distinct. When I listened to that, before the gig, I was expecting something similar, which is quite good.
Wrong speculation again.
The band joining her on stage, is very quickly eclipsed by Lewis orbit.
They rock hard to support her uncontrollable fury to the point that “Mars-Volta” recorded accuracy is lost in translation.
Terra incognita (the song) opens the show and indicates what we are going to get tonight. The title should suggest a move towards “unknown land” (that is what the Italian/Latin title means) but this land appear to be next door to the one “licked” in the past.
Purgatory Blues follows, it is a track from the Licks latest album. A classic-rock track that opens with a Led Zeppelen-ish riff and has a chorus that is perfect to stage Juliette fury.
Sticky Honey another stereotyped title for another stereotyped song from the same, Four on the Floor album with the Licks.
Here the riff seems to emerge from a Rolling Stones lost session of the 80s when Mick Jagger was attempting (and failing) to bring Keith Richard into popland.
Two more songs on the same rock’n’roll’n’riot theme and the apex of the gigs happen. In any sense.
The middle of the set is for Hard Loving Woman.
A Deep Purple borrowed title, another rock-blues seventies style, the guitar forged on Led Zeppelin‘s Since I’ve Been Loving You and Juliette Lewis apeing and singing as she was Janis Joplin circa Summertime. Jackpot!
One (the actress) and one (Janis Joplin) inexorably makes two. This song became an audition.
There will ever be a selection to choose the role of Janis Joplin in a movie, Juliette Lewis has the moves, the voice, the experience all on her side. She is clearly far too pretty for Janis’role but Hollywood make-up can make miracles, can’t it.
The part is hers, I am sorry for the singer wannabe actress, Alanis Morissette, but there is no contest here.
Mr Oliver Stone take note, please.
Another couple of old tracks, Hot Kiss and You’re Speaking my language, to warm up the fans and introduce the new single, Suicide Dive Bombers.
A slide guitar and a more sensual voice dissociate her from the riot mood, but the same feeling of watching an actress performing a rockstar stays.
Everything from the title of the songs, that don’t show a minimal effort of imagination, to the music, shaped on cliched 70s rock-blues with hints of nineties guitars, to a costume, ready for the Janis Joplin role (I am willing to be written), I haven’t seen a lot of signs of initiative through the night.
Who performed tonight is a very talented actress with the voice to sing live and fit enough to keep jumping for an hour entertaining her dedicated fans. If they are devoted to the rockstar or the filmstar, remains unanswered.
Make up your own mind listening to some of her new stuff on [myspace] (you won’t believe there is even a song called Romeo!) or the older stuff on [The Licks myspace]. If you are curious of Hard Loving Woman, you can search for it on despite the sound is as horrible as youtube standards. (Sorry, for some reasons WordPress doesn’t allow me linking the video).
Photographing an actress on stage has its own advantage.
She is not bothered by photograhers, she is used to them.
Despite the late night show, It’s plenty of us in the pit tonight. Not a short guestlist.
We had decent lights. We are not distracted by the rest of the band, because it stayed on the back. It is pretty clear who is the subject here.
I debate the theory who states photography is a representation of reality. Not only because digital photography is easily manipulated, but because you modify the reality in the moment you decide what to frame and what to leave out.
An actress helps you to tell the story you want, because an actress doesn’t stand still, has different moves, different face expressions, doesn’t repeat herself.
To freeze Juliette Lewis was possible only using flash which, guess what, was allowed.
A Hollywood star knows how to please photographers and I was very pleased to photograph her.
If only the music…