“As the song continued, it seemed like everyone who was backstage came flooding out resulting in a crowded dance party on stage.”
NPR Tiny Desk Concert Review @ The Fonda
Gary Clark Jr. @ Harrah’s Resort SoCal
Though L’Impératrice has often said they aren’t fond of genre labels, founding member Charles de Boisseguin once described theirs as “cosmic-pop-slash-space-disco.” Last Thursday night, L’Impératrice transformed the Regent Theater into a sparkling discothéque straight out of the Le Marais in the 1980s.
L’Impératrice comes from Paris, where de Boisseguin’s bedroom project evolved into a sonically sprawling six-piece group that draws influence from a variety of genres: 1990s French house, new wave, Eurodisco, jazz, funk, and more. After releasing a series of EPs, the group’s first full-length, Matahari, dropped in France last year to critical acclaim, with an English version following earlier this year.
The concert at the Regent was the first of this North American tour, as well as their first ever show in Los Angeles. As L’Impératrice took the stage in matching blue-and-white jumpsuits, looking like members of the USS Enterprise about to hit the club, frontwoman Flore Benguigui addressed the crowd - “They told me no one dances in Los Angeles. Are you ready to dance tonight?”
When the band launched into their opener, “Ma Starlight”, it was immediately obvious that the answer was yes. The playful electro-pop number was tinged with nervous energy - completely understandable for a tour’s first show - but if nerves were present, they didn’t detract from the band’s incredible musicality, and the audience was hooked.
It’s clear that each member of L’Impératrice is not only a proficient player but also takes great joy in performing. Much of the ninety-minute set was made up of long instrumental jam sessions that allowed the band to flaunt their technique. A particularly popular track was “Vanille Fraise,” a 2015 single that the crowd immediately recognized. It featured a slap solo by bassist David Gaugué, who made his intricate bass lines seem effortless throughout the entire set. Gaugué and drummer Tom Daveau work especially well together, and their ability to hold down the pocket enabled the band to navigate a variety of moods without losing the crowd.
The slow, seductive synth-pop typical of the early EPs was showcased in “Dreaming Of You” a track off Matahari. It’s a heavily syncopated track with a catchy falsetto hook, and since it’s written in English, lots of audience members could sing along. “Erreur 404,” is another track from Matahari about curving a would-be lover, in which L’Impératrice kicked up the laid-back tempo and attitude to match the energy of the crowd.
It’s difficult not to be engaged when a performer is having the time of their life. The band’s high spirits animated the audience, and every time the crowd’s reaction got bigger, the band would up the ante. I’ve never seen an audience so excited; every little thing drove them to riot, whether it was the disco ball switching on, Tom casually flipping a stick during a drum breakdown, or even the band smiling and waving while they switched instruments.
Both the band’s and audience’s enthusiasm reached a fever pitch during the performance of title track “Matahari.” The recorded version is already a lively, highly danceable disco track, but this performance had a certain spark that can only be found in live music. I was standing in the back of the room, and even in the far reaches of the theater, every single person was wildly dancing.
The energy in the room was electric. When the band left the stage after performing another number, throwback instrumental “1998,” the crowd yelled and applauded for three-and-a-half minutes straight (I started timing after about a minute) without losing a decibel of volume or an ounce of passion. I sincerely believed it couldn’t get any louder, but when L’Impératrice took the stage for an encore, I was proven wrong.
The final song, “Aqua Danse,” was an eight-minute psychedelic disco freak-out, featuring an auxiliary percussion breakdown, two crowd surfers, and guitarist Achille Trocellier abandoning his instrument to vogue in the middle of the stage with Flore. As the audience roared for what would unbelievably end up being five full minutes (I timed again), Flore told the audience that whoever said no one dances in Los Angeles had no idea what they were talking about.
L’Impératrice is by far the best live act I’ve ever seen. Their charisma and skill are unmatched, and I can only hope they return stateside soon.
- Anna Podkowski