Jamaica + Via Audio at Schubas

April 25th, 2011: As seen on Time Out Chicago (PDF)

There’s a trend of sorts in the land of indie-pop lately one might call embracing the cheese. First came auto-tune. Then the ukulele. And now the cock-sure blazing rock solo is en vogue.

Certainly there’s a sparkling wink of a joke they’re all in on, felt something fierce as opening Brooklyn crew Via Audio parked aside Schubas last night in a big purple conversion tour van (once emblazoned with the word “SNOB,” we’re told). The hipster mystery machine did not try to hide its arrival.

To Via Audio’s credit, those winks are charming most of the time, inciting a room full of skinny jeans and inhibitions to raise the roof to a Prince-slathered funk of a mid-set get-down called “Babies.” There was reciprocated band-to-crowd sentiment that sure, “the world is overcrowded,” and why not, “I want to make babies with you.”

Or their Unicorns-esque ode to Godzilla, “Lizard Song,” they followed this with, scattering flash riffs and handclaps about four-part huff-and-puff syncopated harmonies bending the line between kook and pop as hard as they could.  “You wanted a monster/Here I am,” drawled out lead guitarist Tom Deis.

Though earlier the four-piece made fans endure a throw-away called “Digital,” wrought with robot-crunched vocals, an impassioned Cake cadence and the veritable icing – a neon guitar bit lifted straight from “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” cache.  Color it a satirical monster all you want.  It still put a sour taste in this reviewer’s mouth.

An odd thing for this band to kick out, even with their quirks worn proudly on their sleeves. Especially when they whipped out closer “Happening,” keyboardist Jessica Martins glistening a soulful sing-along – “This is what we live for/This is where we aught to be” – before the band erupted in hip-popping key.

So the same story went for headliners Jamaica, a French power-pop duo ironically spawned on the condition that they threw any synth tricks out the studio window, or heavyweight Parisian natives, Xavier De Rosnay (Justice) and Peter Franco (Daft Punk), wouldn’t produce their debut.

The two took the stage sans synth, indeed, rounding out a rhythm section with touring drummer David Arknin, but orchestrated a shit-show of pedal-clicks to hit moment after moment of gleaming “rawk” bridges and impassioned lyrics about being a “Gentleman” and the glory of all things “Short and Entertaining.”

Likened to peers Phoenix in the blogosphere, this is not to say the trio did not own their cheese.  A pocket of girls near the stage ate up every “gar pareee” drop that lead singer Antoine Hilaire filled banter time with.  And the viral rockumentary “I Think I Like U 2,” an actually clever stab at their own power-chord rise to fame saw some similar swoons, phallic guitar positioning and all.  It just got placid after a while.  Half the room emptied out by the time they capped their 10-song set.

Which is somewhat of a shame. Because “When Do You Wanna Stop Working” is one case where all their flash and power posture is ditched all together, Hilaire taking a moment to channel some garage rock roots.  If only honesty came back in style.

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