There are a couple different themes going on during Cate Le Bon's set at Mercury Lounge. I've already pandered to a Wes Anderson reference in trying to articulate the way her new album CYRK slyly pokes fun at the super serious — Le Bon is witty, elegant, (mostly) sad and sounds an awful lot like Nico — but lo and behold, she enters the stage looking not unlike Margot Tenenbaum, taking her twee-goth hair and makeup styling to heart. She and her band set off on "Julia," one of the album's most unwelcoming tracks thanks to a sinister keyboard melody snaking around cold, high-pitched vocals. She appears detached.
It's a far different show by the end, where Le Bon chummily introduces "Ploughing Out Part 1 & 2" — a dainty slow build that eventually cracks open and is probably my favorite seven minutes of music in 2012 so far — and asks the audience to come on tour with her across the Hudson River (she plays Maxwell's tonight). Here she displays aching pop melodies and bold, dirgy guitar soloing. Forget Margot Tenenbaum. Karen O comes to mind with every swish of that sorta-cape-sorta-dress she's wearing.
The stealth shifts that got us from point A to point B in the matter of 40-some minutes speak to Le Bon's strength as a performer. There are intense stares into the audience when she looks up from a keyboard. There's a concentration of cleanly produced pop jangle. There are bolts of psychedelic upheaval, guitar feedback, spastic hair slinging. Sometimes the rock-girl persona comes out for just a split second, sometimes right in the middle of one of the most delicate songs. Her focus constantly shifts, but wherever it is, it's there in full.
Photos by Nadia Chaudhury