Having studied French in middle school, high school and a few stints in college I have found myself effortlessly drawn to French pop music. To this day my reaction to Jacques Dutronc’s psychedelic song “Cactus” is the same as it was when I first came across its original music video: one of awe. All the song talks about are cacti and the video is a collage of up close and wide-angle shots of Dutronc in his skinny French glory moving around lankily in a vastly empty space. I took that song and its visual accompaniment to be an ode to simplicity, and I was hooked. Having this as my experience of French rock and roll I had high expectations for The Liminañas whose first LP (Trouble in Mind) echoed the standards of their predecessors.
The Liminañas are Lionel (bass) and Marie Liminañas (drums and backing vocals) formerly from Las Bellas. For the show at the Empty Bottle on August 12 they were backed by members of the Gaz Gaz, which is made up of members of the now defunct Sonic Chicken 4. Their sound is soft and airy, but not less commanding. While they are easy to listen to, though not easy listening –big difference there, their lyrics contain the right amount of artistry to command the audience’s attention, which is exactly how they crafted their performance. What was great about their performance, besides the intoxicating, though similar, beat of their songs that allowed the audience to bob their heads easily to the rhythm and sing along to decipherable lyrics was in being engulfed by the environment set by The Liminañas. Their specialty was in creating an atmosphere that conjured up iconic French pop music of the 60s, but this atmosphere was not one of etherealness, but of being engulfed and lost in the music.
Tellingly, everyone was dressed in black, which is unremarkable as is, but definitely noteworthy given that the backing band members had to undergo a wardrobe change out of the garb they had just sported as the Gaz Gaz. The black clothes signaled to me that The Liminañas were clearly set on their image and this ideal was exceeded through the performance of the lead vocalist. The singer perfectly embodied the persona of a young French chanteuse so sure of her craft and appeal she could care less about everything around her. Her stage(d) indifference at first seemed like a response to the numerous ogling audience members, but upon reflection I found that this also tied in with the black uniform, the minimal attempts at contact with the audience. The Liminañas had one goal only, to direct all focus to their music.
What The Liminañas illustrated in their performance at the empty bottle was just how meaningful simplicity can be. Though most, if not all, their songs have a base structure of repetitive drums that have become the hallmark of their sound, they also contain no fewer than six or seven instrument arrangements. Therein their artistry. The songs are catchy and the stage presence alluring but these are just devices to get you inside the world created by The Liminañas. An example of this for me was “Tears,” where what seems to be a statement “wanna touch it, wanna feel it” is transformed into a proclamation “wanna taste it, wanna kiss it” that reaches catharsis with a high pitched scream in which almost all of the audience joined in. At the end of the show I learned that the new song they released for this tour “Trouble In Mind” had been crafted after/for the eponymous local record label that has been responsible for bringing them to the States. “I have a trouble in mind. I have a trouble in mind”, the singer asserted calmly throughout. The raspiness of her voice and the ebb and flow of the instruments celebrated trouble in mind. The show was closed with an encore set that featured a reprise of the beloved “Down Underground.” Was this done generously or smugly? That is not for me to decide, all I can say is, if you have as much talent as these francophone rock and roll hall-of-famers, you better put it to good use.