Mixing R&B and dance music is a treacherous road. On the one hand, you’re apt to create popular but forgettable tracks, the kind of flotsam that even clubgoers can’t name if asked. On the other, you can create potent music that is tethered inexorably to the time and place of its origin, usually relegated to cult status. AVAN LAVA is definitely the latter. Their brand of sexlovemagic is vibrant, present, and loud. As it should be. The Bowery Ballroom, replete with tank-topped men and women in paisley jumpers, was the perfect venue for the band’s brand of frenetic showmanship.
Opener Computer Magic may not have been the perfect selection to start the show, but I will say that Danz is almost a sort of Cyndi Lauper in the rough. Her celebratory new wave has the kind of optimistic tone that is often lost by other new wave interpreters and copycats. Her firm grasp of synth and keyboards captured the attention of the Ballroom, and she made good use of her guitarist, lacing a bigger sound into a relatively small effort. Unfortunately, her voice control is still at novice level, and takes a bit away from the sound she builds. Thankfully, Computer Magic is exploratory without losing itself in pretension, so even these pitfalls aren’t serious. They create a thoroughly modern new wave, and have a lot of potential.
AVAN LAVA call themselves “super-pop,” though I have to argue otherwise. Every track on stage was a lot more raw and exposed than any pop hit I’ve ever heard. The first track, amongst a cloud of confetti, was “Somebody to Love Me,” a Mark Ronson cover with an almost angry take on the modern love song. Tom Hennes (“TC”), lead singer, immediately occupied the stage as a frustrated male imp. His voice is undeniable, and consistent as hell. His backup singers, Jo Lampert and Drew Citron, are more of a presence than you would expect from a band that includes TC, both with considerable talents of their own.
The band alternated between sexually aggressive tracks like “Slow Motion” to more emotionally dependent tracks like “End of the World” or their recent single, “Sisters.” Electropop is the skeleton of AVAN LAVA’s sound, but the effort they put into each track make them organic than most of their contemporaries. This effort includes the excellent backing of Ian Pei and Le Chev (wearing a ridiculous blond wig), and things like a dance crew clad only in white underwear. The effect was something akin to a talented Funky Bunch lost at a house club. The only place where the band falters is with their ballads, which are dramatically less successful. Finishing the show of with what is apparently a traditional crowd surf (and flirting on mike), “If Only For Tonight” sums up AVAN LAVA’s appeal. Wirey, rough sex, wrapped in a big show. And in a culture repeating the lessons of the Depression and roaring 20’s excess all at one, they may just be the right sound for the moment.