Having unfortunately missed MÉLANIE PAIN at Manchester’s Deaf Institute the day before, I head to Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club to savour the French solo artist more broadly known as one of the singers of trendy music collective NOUVELLE VAGUE. Feedback from the Manchester show suggests that this is a talent to watch and that her movement towards more synth-oriented tracks is definitely a sign of exciting developments in the singer-songwriter’s career.
Surprised at first to find that Mélanie has been relocated to the “cosier” games-room-slash-venue backroom with its fairy-light backdrop, the switch (due to some booking issue) actually turns out to be a blessing as the room fills up almost immediately, creating a very intimate living-room atmosphere, people practically falling over each other as they move in and out of the mini-venue.
First on, Liverpool’s LAURA J MARTIN successfully warms up the crowds who lap up her quirky instrumental setup and vocal style. I sadly miss part of Laura’s set since I’m backstage finishing up an interview with Mélanie (which interestingly reveals one of those secrets of how bands kill time on tour – portable table-tennis set: genius), but I reemerge at a high point it seems, with Laura flute-followed-by-mandolin in hand, loop station working its magic, beautiful vocals, and some serious Kate Bush-esque arm-waving which unexpectedly endears me even more to her – that was “Red Flag” which I’m now curious to ask Laura more about. It turns out she also spent some time in Japan, so no doubt we’ll catch up with her again soon.
The break in proceedings allows the cheery crowds to struggle their way to the bar. It’s a busy night at the Brudenell and there’s high anticipation as to what Mélanie Pain is going to deliver tonight.
As guitarist Guillaume Zeller and drummer Julien Boyé set the instrumental scene with a smooth rousing intro, the crowds whoop in delight as Mélanie comes slinking from the middle of the crowd onto the stage. She’s wearing a vintage LBD, hair back, and she’s the picture of chic as she lets out her distinctive at-once husky-yet-silky vocals. It’s nice to see a mix of ages in the crowd moving to the grooves, finding themselves in a very continental atmosphere all of a sudden, where the idea is to let your hair down (but with class of course). Shaker out and in full swing, Mélanie falls into her own world as she sings the catchy “Je Laisse Tomber” (I let it go).
“Bonsoir, Leeds! How are you?” she jovially belts out at the end of the track, leading into “Bye Bye Manchester.” Playing one of two facing keyboards on the tightest of stages, she proudly showcases her love song to the city where she spent two months writing her new album of the same title. There’s something very cool about the French pronunciation of “Manchester” and the crowds are absolutely loving the dual-language setup. We’re then treated to more tracks off the new LP. With a breezy “Merci Beaucoup!” we’re into the poppy “Just a Girl.”
She humorously explains that “La Cigarette” off her debut album “My Name” is about having a last cigarette then hopelessly reaching for another while attempting to dump a boyfriend. This is immediately followed by brilliant new rock ballad “How Bad Can I Be” which she describes as “another sad song, because I like them… It makes me happy to be sad – but just in winter.” And we’re into another classic “Bruises” with its soulful blues sound.
Clearly surprised by the polite attentiveness of the crowds, she pipes out, “Are you ok? I’m very disturbed, because I was ready for a drunken crowd…” to which of course someone shouts out “There’s still time!!” After the black-humour duet “Black Widow,” we’re treated to “Looking for a Man” written we learn out of Mélanie’s personal ambition to wed a certain Mr. Jack White (“I cook and I clean, I’m a perfect machine / I’m tall and I’m blonde, and I burst at the seams… I’m all you ever need, won’t you try me?”)
After a minor wardrobe malfunction which drummer Julien struggles to help her out with (“French guys, huh…”), she announces that she’ll be back in Leeds soon “but in the next room!” and we’re straight into the brilliantly synthy “7 ou 8 fois” (7 or 8 times, which we learn in interview is about not giving up, that success requires persistence). Mélanie’s been entertaining us for over an hour but this closing track gets the crowds bouncing and they demand more – she returns to demonstrate her unique version of the Smiths’ “Panic.” Always nerve-wracking when bands cover Manc classics, she nevertheless gets the crowds to join in the chorus and corpses in the middle, clearly finding the whole experience more than a little surreal – she’s having a good time. Closing with “Good Enough” from the new album, Mélanie thanks the crowds (“Hope to see you at the bar and drink together!”) who feel they definitely got their money’s worth tonight.
So, what have we learned? This “accidental” singer-songwriter is talented, humble and fearless, and she’s fantastic with the crowds to boot. Mélanie Pain will surely be back – and most likely in the room next door.
“Just a Girl EP” is out 29 April, “Bye Bye Manchester” is out in September 2013 in the UK. For more info, go to www.melaniepain.com