Sunday, 15 December 2019

L'Épée at EartH Hackney - Gig of The Year from the new 'super-group' featuring The Limiñanas, Anton Newcombe and Emmanuelle Seigner

L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
I first became aware of L'Épée following The Limiñanas superb show at the 100 Club in London back in February. They played a couple of great sounding songs that I didn’t recognise and I guessed they were new unrecorded tracks. After a bit of research I found a couple of demos on YouTube under the name L'Épée. I was intrigued and then news filtered out that this was some new kind of ‘super-group’, the idea for which could probably be traced back to the release of last year’s Limiñanas album “Shadow People”. The Limiñanas are an unorthodox band. They are a duo comprising the husband and wife team of Marie and Lionel Limiñana and as neither are lead vocalists, they prefer to recruit guest musicians and singers to bring their songs to life. This philosophy culminated in the excellent 2018 album “Shadow People” which featured Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, actress and singer Emmanuelle Seigner and vocalist Bertrand Belin who all contributed standout songs. They must have enjoyed working together as Lionel, Belin and Newcombe set about writing new material together initially with the idea of a new solo album for Emmanuelle. However, this idea soon developed into a brand new band instead which they named L'Épée and the resulting songs would go towards the stunning debut album “Diabolique”. At first I thought it would remain a studio project but the announcement of extensive live dates was met with intense anticipation. Unfortunately, Belin isn’t involved in the touring line-up, which is made up of Marie on drums and Lionel on guitar, Emmanuelle on lead vocals, Anton on guitar and then basically The Limiñanas line-up that I saw at The 100 Club (minus vocalist Nika Leeflang who is now working on some excellent solo material as can be heard in our latest episode of Retrosonic Podcast). 

L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
As the band takes the stage of EartH in Hackney, the first thing I notice is this large broadsword appearing out of the dry ice and lights like Excalibur. As L'Épée means sword in French it was an apt piece of decoration and it would certainly deter any would-be stage invaders, that’s for sure. The glowing Moroccan lanterns hanging all around the stage provide the perfect backdrop to opening song “La Brigade De Maléfices”. With it's snakelike Arabic influenced riff and exotic swelling keyboards, it could almost be the score from a movie set deep inside the chaotic souks and Medina of Marrakech. I’ve always found The Limiñanas to be incredibly cinematic, in fact it’s no surprise that the latest release from the prolific Marie and Lionel is the soundtrack to Pierre Creton’s movie “Le Bel été” and with L'Épée, they have carried this feel even further. Yes, there are elements of fuzzed-up 60’s Garage Rock nuggets, the nihilistic attack of The Stooges and the feedback drenched Drone-Rock of The Jesus & Mary Chain and Spacemen 3, but there are also evocative touches of Spaghetti Western and Nouvelle Vague movie themes too. I think Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin and John Barry might be as much an influence as The Velvet Underground, Serge Gainsbourg, Can and Suicide. The gig that follows is a truly mind-blowing experience, one that is going to stay with me for years to come. Marie’s hypnotic floor-tom heavy beat is at the heart of everything, it’s almost mantra-like, completely bereft of cymbals and hi-hat, Emmanuelle’s tambourine is the only percussive accompaniment. Lionel attacks his guitar, a master of knowing when to hold back and when to hit you between the eyes with a stinging fuzzed-up chord. His sense of dynamics allied to Marie’s drumming is probably the key to the sound of both L'Épée and The Limiñanas too. 

L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
The band perform the whole of “Diabolique” (minus “Springfield 61”) and despite the album only being a few months old, it already feels like an old favourite that’s been part of the collection for years, such is the quality of the song-writing. Emmanuelle is a charismatic presence swaying away to the grooves, an archetypal Femme Fatale and her voice is perfect for the material, often delivered in sultry spoken passages. Although she is probably better known as an actress, she is certainly no stranger to Rock ‘n’ Roll having released a couple of great solo albums and a collaboration with the Psych Rock band Ultra Orange. Fans of The Brian Jonestown Massacre will no doubt appreciate Anton’s instantly recognisable sound and memorable riffs when they hear L'Épée, and tonight his guitar playing is superb. There is however a section of one song where the complicated riffing and time signatures drop out of sync and you feel the tension rise. You can also sense the nerves in the crowd, hoping that Anton doesn’t blow his top. Luckily, he seems more annoyed at himself and before the tension gets too much, they all suddenly lock back into the groove and take off again with just a pinch of additional aggression. One of the highlights of the set is an upbeat new song “Beginnings of Sorrow” which is more of a catchy Garage Yé-yé number and with it’s insistent "I say yeah!" chorus; it would make an ideal single. The good news is that it hints to more L'Épée material to follow in the future. “Dreams” is another high point, crashing in on a “Gloria” style riff; it certainly raises the temperature in the strangely cold venue. At one point they all crowd around Marie’s drumkit, the orange lights and smoke create a really spooky scene and as the music builds to a crescendo Anton scrapes his guitar neck down the broadsword. 

L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
Things slow down a bit with sublime performances of the atmospheric “On Dansait Avec Elle” and “Grande” and you can appreciate the subtle textures that the band is capable of. I spoke before in my review of The Limiñanas 100 Club gig one thing that struck me is the skill that Marie and Lionel have in assimilating many and varied guest musicians and vocalists to bring their music to life. The main core of the band are also great characters in their own right. There’s Renaud Picard from the excellent Crank on guitar and vocals and super cool bassist Mikey Malaga, swaying and swinging his low-slung Fender. Then there’s Alban Barate who plays keyboards and adds yet another guitar. In fact, I haven’t seen a line-up with so many guitars since the last time I saw The Blue Aeroplanes. Ivan Telefunken is a true character but unfortunately he’s almost hidden away at the back and his fluorescent dotted guitars and keyboards are often all that’s visible through the dry ice. He coaxes strange electronic sounds and controlled feedback from his collection of brightly coloured equipment, swinging his guitar around for maximum effect and his presence adds a touch of unpredictability to proceedings. They remind me of The Soundtrack of Our Lives in their prime where each band member adds their own unique stamp on proceedings and their energy makes for a stunningly exciting visual display. Talking of TSOOL – have a listen to their great collaboration with Jane Birkin, “Midnight Children” – it could almost be a forerunner of “Shadow People”.

L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
L'Épée at EartH Hackney, London - Photo Retro Man Blog
Current single “Ghost Rider” is another high point, reprising The Limiñanas “I’m Dead” in the chorus and the B-side, the powerful Garage Rocker “Shiny Shiny” also stands out. For “Istanbul Is Sleepy”, Anton puts down his guitar and crouches on the floor to manipulate his effects pedals while delivering his only lead vocal of the night. They end the set with a blistering ‘Un Rituel Inhabituel’, which segues into ‘The Train Creep A-Loopin’, and then it’s all over. There’s no encore, basically because they couldn’t really follow up such a perfectly plotted set and the appreciative crowd certainly understand, filing out into the freezing December air thoroughly satisfied. It was a stunning show and gig of year as far as I’m concerned, jumping into top spot ahead of – yes, you guessed it - The Limiñanas at The 100 Club. You can read the review of that show in the Blog archive here.



More photos of the gig can be found at our official Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and there are more videos at our YouTube channel over here. For more information please click on the highlighted links throughout the feature. You can also check out the official sites for L'Épée here and The Limiñanas here. "Diabolique" is released on A Recordings and is available from Cargo Records.

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