all words: Jeb Gavin
all photos: Katherine Gaines
“These kids are going to be alright”, I thought, standing in the middle of a small crowd of teenagers and college students at the Yelle show this past Wednesday night at Sonar in Baltimore. Granted, my first thought was, “who feels like dancing on such a cold, rainy Wednesday night?”
But no sooner asked than answered when I realized I was the oldest person in the room, excepting some very hip parents tapping their toes at the back of the crowd. It was my first trip to Sonar, a club that seemed designed to conform to the stereotypical description of an East German disco, minus the Stasi and ennui. Though considering everyone I talked to seemed to only care about dancing and little else, perhaps they all ennuied in the alley behind the club before coming in from the cold.
The night opened with a dual set by locals DJ Lemz and Vodkatrina which had the sparse crowd dancing from the first. Next up: the Parisian duo, Housse de Racket (pronounced oouse de-rickets). They shuffled on stage looking like the Gallic Black Keys, but instead of pounding out the blues, Pierre Leroux and Victor Le Masne proceeded to power through an up-tempo set shifting between disco infused indie (the kind you’d hear on some long lost, French version of The O.C. soundtrack,) and full blown progressive arena rock. Rarely do two people with three instruments make that much consistently danceable noise, and the crowd responded.
With only the briefest pause to reconfigure the stage for piles of drums and keyboards, it was time for Yelle. Singer Julie Budet began the night in a gillie suit looking like a hyperkinetic shrub, and ran through two costume changes in as many songs, morphing first into a plasticized Snow White, and finally into a hooded, red leopard-print jumpsuit.
The final change made the most sense, considering she spent the rest of the night doing calisthenics, bouncing around the stage and whipping the assembled into frenzy. Electropop beats and sing-song French rap echoed through the cavernous, pillared room, the sound bouncing along black, couch-lined walls to the shifting colors of the lights on and off stage.
Knowing the band sold out the 9:30 Club just a few months earlier, I expected they might be reserved, perhaps even unhappy with the smaller venue and crowd. But nothing seemed to slow them down. Yelle played almost gleefully, excited to have the opportunity to interact with the audience in an intimate setting, taking the time to stop early on in their performance to bring audience members up on stage to show the pixie French singer some Baltimore club moves, or to teach the audience dirty words in French. Few things are as gratifying as seeing an audience act in sync: everyone wanted to move, and the band was ecstatic to make it happen.