The concept of a music video director releasing an album in his or her own right usually prompts a certain amount of suspicion, and understandably so. There is always the thought that the guy behind the camera has looked at the artist in front and simply decided “I quite fancy trying that out.” Yoann Lemoine has already eked out an impressive career behind the camera, but Wednesday night at the Fonda Theatre (his first ever live date in Los Angeles and the first date of his tour) proved that his new alternative career as Woodkid is not in any danger of coming across as a mere vanity project.
To start with, there were the visuals. It makes sense that the stage setup for a man who has made a living developing such a distinctive visual style would be nothing short of arresting, but it was still a bit of a shock to see the meticulous stage design, with a backdrop of CGI scenery and a light show worthy of an arena show. Between the two percussionists and the brass section, the show already had a real sense of theater even before Lemoine himself had actually taken the stage after an absurdly over-the-top and brilliantly dramatic introduction.
The band then proceeded to play pretty much all of the album The Golden Age. The sound of the music itself is refreshing in its development of its own formula. These are relatively straight-forward pop songs and melodies, but performed with lashings of brass, strings, and especially heavy percussion that veers away from the traditional. Competing in all that noise is Lemoine’s voice, a delicate but lovely thing that has the soft lilt and vibrato quality of Antony Hegarty in his quieter moments. It is clear that the Woodkid sound has been established, and the speed with which Lemoine has settled on this is impressive and commendable.
As a live show, Woodkid’s still has some work to be done. The band sounded terrific, but at times the sheer weight of its sound threatened to drown out the vocals completely, and there is an imbalance at work there. Lemoine was having a great time, but the natural goofiness of his character occasionally undercut the sincerity of the music, and it was hard to tell whether he was trying to sell Woodkid the wildly celebratory and percussive act, or Woodkid the sensitive singer-songwriter. If he can find a way to make those two things jar a little less, he may really be onto something.
Woodkid has some gorgeous songs in his repertoire as well. “Iron” and “I Love You” especially benefit from a sense of restraint, while at the other end of the scale “Stabat Mater” had a glorious sense of excess at its core, sounding like a Beethoven overture with a slow, pounding bass drum to drive. On stage with the blinding lights, the effect was suitably overwhelming.
I have no idea where he will go next with this music, but watching Lemoine develop as a musician is going to be intriguing. There are certain touchstones, but he has arrived, by default or design, at a sound that is uniquely his own. I am still not entirely sure that it works, but the evidence at the Fonda Theater is that he has poured his heart and soul into this and is thrilled to be performing in front of a crowd. Even more importantly, the crowd seems thrilled to hear it.
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