The Chalets/Hoboken – Barfly (21 November 2005)

It’s Monday night. I’ve just been back at work after a flippen awesome weekend in London. The last thing I want to do is drag my weary ass to yet another gig. But, past experience has proven that it’s better to regret something you have done than regret something you haven’t (and by the way…). And as The Chalets‘ album Check In has been growing on me, I’ve become even more convinced that I must see them live. Being Irish, I have no idea when they’re likely to next be in town, so needs must…

Hoboken – another bete noir or the campaign for googlable band names – are a group of whom I’ve heard lots. They seem to divide opinion greatly. You either do or you really, really don’t. And to be honest, initially I fell into the latter. Their take on eighties electro-pop seemed to be hedging it’s bets a little. They seem neither content to get dark or dramatic enough to verge on Goth like Soft Cell could, nor willing to completely lose it to a hi-energy stompathon that you can’t feeling help they’re gagging for. Kinda like Depeche Mode after Vince Clarke left (and they lost the incessant pop riffs) and before Dave Gahan became a junky (and they went all ersatz weirdy). That said, as the set rolls on (and the ‘better’/new material gets aired) something begins to make sense of their Scott Walker fronting the Pet Shop Boys pretentions (oh, come on there’s no other word for it). (At his best, the vocalist has some similar intonations to Cathal Coughlan, which kinda pisses me off.)

By the end of it, to be honest, they’ve won me over more than I thought they could. I won’t go out of my way to see them again, but if they’re supporting someone else I will make a point of not sitting in the bar through their set. Interested, if not convinced.

The Chalets open with an glockenspeil filled twee instrumental that is very shakey and my heart begins to sink. Thankfully, it doesn’t last. OK, they take a couple of tunes to get into their stride (well within the permissible). But, when they do it’s pretty great.

There’s a few things that set them apart from the current retro-rabble. First and foremost is the four-way vocals (two male two female) – sorta like Abba, and boy do they know it, although thankfully that’s about the only real comparison (except the dance routines). Anyone who’s ever played in a band will know just how bloody difficult this can be. But the ‘Lets (as I’m sure no=one calls them) carry it off with ease, poise and charm.

Particular highlight for me is the Eno-esque Feel The Machine fleshed out in the live sound to levels of portentousness that shouldn’t be this much fun. And, fun is a big part of what’s going on. Despite the often brutal take on sexual politics and the mundanity of life, the band still manage walk like the B52s (I bet they’re sick of hearing them mentioned, but it can’t be avoided and it’s better than Bucks Fizz). Two Chord Song seems very brave, seing as it seems to satirise bands in exactly the situation that they are currently enjoying. And, it is two chords.

The make me dance in a criminally empty venue. This is a good thing. Catch them before they’re playing stadia with several costume changes.

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Written by Tony Kiernan

05 December 2005 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Gigs

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