Review: ‘La Roux’

The tyranny of first impressions was particularly cruel to buzzed-about U.K. synthpop duo.

The tyranny of first impressions was particularly cruel to buzzed-about U.K. synthpop duo La Roux last night, laid low by ill frontwoman Elly Jackson for their first solo L.A. show. Jackson deserves serious brownie points for soldiering through a truncated set. And while highlights from the band’s Mercury Prize-nominated debut LP were recreated with brio, the abbreviated show was appropriate, as the tyro act hasn’t yet amassed a full repertoire to stand alongside its signature hits. Chalk this one up to a false start.

On record, La Roux consists of 21-year-old singer Jackson (whose mile-high coif and quintessentially British knack for giving outspoken interviews have helped make her a celebrity across the pond) and reclusive instrumentalist Ben Langmaid, who doesn’t perform live, replaced Monday night by a trio of touring musicians. The Eurythmics seems to have been a natural model for the two — especially considering the Annie Lennox-isms of Jackson’s insistent, wildly expressive vocals and her androgynous fashion sense — although the classic synth-duo dynamic is lost without a stoical Dave Stewart type onstage to play against, and the iteration of La Roux that performed at the El Rey seemed distinctly like a solo act.

Aside from the obvious ’80s electro pop comparisons, the band’s music is most reminiscent of the skittery, eight-bit-Baroque scores of early videogame composers Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo, a sound sure to spark a Proustian surge of nostalgia in anyone who grew up glued to an NES controller. It’s an attractive, infectious style they’ve corralled, though it’s one that needs strong hooks to assert itself.

When those hooks were present — as they were in “I’m Not Your Toy” and the impossibly catchy “Bulletproof” — it seemed inconceivable that the band has yet to break big in the U.S. When they were absent, as on angular ballads “Colourless Colour” and “Saviour,” the music receded rapidly into the background. (As a general rule, a 40-minute set should not have extended dull stretches.) Given time to mature and deepen, La Roux could be a considerable force; at present, their appeal is limited to intense yet fleeting pleasures.

La Roux plays Oct. 26 at the Highline Ballroom in New York. 

Local noise-disco duo Tearist opened the show, trafficking in head-knocking yet undanceable beats and art-school poses that made the sincerity and tunefulness of the headliners all the more welcome.

La Roux

El Rey Theater; 770 capacity; $18


Presented by Goldenvoice. Reviewed Oct. 19, 2009.


Band: Eleanor "Elly" Jackson, Michelle O'Brien, Michael Norris and William Bowerman.
Also appearing: Tearist.
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