The past year has been a year of renewal for pop music when it comes to new roles for women. In these previous 12 months, the archetype of what a female pop singer is supposed to look and sound like has been completely gutted and reconstituted, leaving room for the more inventive to make their mark.
Artists like Lady Gaga and La Roux took their cues from underground successes like Goldfrapp, Ladytron and Peaches, welding androgyny and empowerment onto their own acts . The characters in these songs aren't helpless, coming off more like female pirates than the cooing dolls that we have been getting slimed with since Britney put on a schoolgirl uniform in late 1998.
On the other end its fun to see dowdy artists try to bite down on the bit to fit in, like Christina Aguilera, when they are really chasing an image that is a direct rebuttal of their own draggy get-ups and otherwise over-stylized gear. The new girls just look better and sound better at doing it, and it's easier for a normal person to pull off alone with a modicum of imagination.
Sunday night, La Roux pulled into the House of Blues to a packed house of clubby-looking kids and tanned and plucked scenesters for a quick hour-long set, running through half of 2009's eponymous debut in front of a simply lit backdrop and minimal stage rigging. Lead singer Elly Jackson is, for all intents and purposes, La Roux to the general public, but the group actually began as Jackson and Ben Langmaid, who does not tour. Live, La Roux is now a four-piece.
La Roux is close to Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell, with Jackson's voice ringing out scathing indictments on top. Her voice is easily one of the best things going right now in music, mixing icy with doubt and resonance. The band being decked out in Bryan Ferry-style garb gave the proceedings a formal taste, but the band's image isn't off-putting. It's a natural fit.
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"I'm Not Your Toy" and its damning line, "You don't like me, you just like the attention" got some of the biggest screams early in the show. The band's cover of the Rolling Stones "Under My Thumb" brought us up from taking show notes on our phone and did the Jagger-Richards composition extreme justice. The song's detached abusive feeling fits Jackson's voice like a glove.
You can't tell what gender Jackson is going for in the songs, but the glint of androgyny in her voice is what makes it malleable for fans. It's the same reason Morrissey still gets people off nightly in a live setting.
By the set-closer, "Bulletproof", peeps were looking danced-out and ready for the next party, seeing that Monday was Memorial Day therefore making the show really just an appetizer for a night of debauchedness. La Roux is really only on the first wrung of American stardom, but out here it takes longer for things to catch fire.
Hopefully Jackson's voice won't get lost in the pop-culture shuffle, because through everything, it's the thing that will keep everyone coming back for more.