Review: Tahiti 80 @ LA Troubadour

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Some bands spend their entire careers wallowing in indie obscurity, never reaching the level of mainstream success they deserve due to an unwillingness to compromise their sound & style to fit into the basic pop package that has dominated the charts for years and years. Others find themselves thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly, collecting acclaim & recognition because of this unwillingness to compromise.  Then there are those that fit the package perfectly, yet for whatever reason, still can’t seem to burst the bubble into the collective consciousness.

For better or for worse, the French indie outfit Tahiti 80 is one of those bands who haven’t quite claimed what they’re after. To their credit, it’s not for the want of trying. Not only do they play a brisk brand of leftfield pop that could easily open any number of television shows, but they play it well…and not only do they play it well, they play it fairly often. Formed in Rouen, France way back in 1993, Tahiti 80 in one shape or another has been kicking around continent after continent ever since. While they haven’t quite reached the plateau of the fellow English-singing compatriots that they’re often compared to – Phoenix, Air, and to a lesser extent Daft Punk – all they’ve done in the meantime is release ten EPs and five full-lengths, not to mention touring the world many times over.

Their most recent tour has brought them through California on a string of West Coast dates, serving as mini rev-up of sorts before hitting this week’s South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin. After surviving a broken down bus in San Francisco a day earlier, the band eventually made its way down to Los Angeles on Monday night to take the stage at the Troubadour for an impressive seventh time. The five-piece took said stage under the subtle shower of a recorded waterfall swish, before breaking in the with electro-funk bassline of ‘Solitary Bizness‘, the title track of a previous EP that has since snuck its way onto their brand new album. Amidst a wash of synth and a solid dance beat, singer Xavier Boyer’s soft and steady vocal hovered gracefully over bassist Pedro Resende’s smoothed-out pulse, creating that subtle blend of dream pop & Gallic groove that has defined Tahiti 80’s sound over the last decade.

The new album, entitled ‘The Past, Present, & The Possible‘, hit stores last month, and as a result the group hit the crowd with a stream of new songs to back the buzz surrounding it. Five of the first seven on the setlist came straight from the new record, including the watered-down New Order ode to rock excess of ‘Gate 33‘ and the acoustic lovelorn soft-rock of ‘Easy‘.  While both tracks highlight the breezy bounce at the core of Tahiti’s songwriting, neither quite defines their direction like ‘Darlin’ (Adam & Eve Song)‘. With equal parts electronica & offbeat effervescence to accompany the all-out anthemic chorus, the creation myth inspired single has enough shimmer & shine to seep its way into the background of the next hipster-baiting cell phone or economy car commercial, if it hasn’t already.  But whether it has, hasn’t, or ever will doesn’t really matter, as ‘Darlin’ is easily one of Tahiti 80’s most polished and powerful pop songs to date.

The most striking thing about their set however, wasn’t their new material versus that of their old, but more so the way in which it all strung itself together. If there is anything to take away from a live Tahiti 80 performance, it’s that these guys really sound like they’ve been playing on stage together for the past eighteen years. Their tempos were tight, their transitions seamless, & the overall ease in which they fed off each other’s energy was evident throughout the course of the evening.  Whether it was the disco-infused party romp of old tunes like ‘Big Day‘ and ‘1000 Times‘, or the krautrock meets acid house mash-up of new ones like ‘Defender‘ and ‘Crack Up‘, it was clear that only a band with Tahiti’s touring chops could pull it off with such a cool confidence.

To be clear, proclaiming that these guys have spent their entire careers wallowing in indie obscurity is an obvious overstatement. They garnered attention for 2002’s ‘Wallpaper For The Soul‘, achieved an endearing amount of success in their home country, and are, coincidentally, very big in Japan. Yet still, given their manicured French looks and consistent devotion to crafting concise hook-laden pop, it’s either a wonder or a travesty that they’re playing to a sparse Monday crowd in West Hollywood instead of jam-packed Friday night summer slot at the Hollywood Bowl. Maybe they lack the right amount of inner conflict to outweigh their overly optimistic aura.  Maybe there is some sort of misguided stateside sensibility that just can’t get past their laidback style.  Maybe they’ve just been around too long to ever break through.

Then again, maybe they’re just the right cell phone commercial away.

(Beau De Lang)

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