Anyone who’s watched Jean-Paul Belmondo mimic Humphrey Bogart in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless knows that the French have a thing for US culture. Parisian electropunks Cheveu are no exception, but the band fixates on kitsch rather than cool. Since coming together in the summer of 2003, the trio has routinely channeled the mundane into something charmingly surreal. “Charlie Sheen,” from Cheveu’s 2010 sophomore record 1000, zips from sing-songy to manic, pausing long enough for Lemoine to inquire, “What can I do for you, Charlie? Anything to go with your fries?” Along similar lines, the band’s pseudo-cover of “Ice Ice Baby” swaps out Vanilla Ice’s smooth cadences for driving dance-rock abandon.
At home in France, Cheveu enjoys something like star status, having baffled crowds at the 2009 Rock en Seine festival, in addition to sharing DIY bills with fellow avant-rockers like Crack Und Ultra Eczema. The band has found a second home in the American underground, appearing at Memphis’s illustrious Gonerfest in 2006 and touring with garagey groups like Black Lips, Tyvek, and King Khan. Cheveu may not sound much like those outfits, but any punk fan could appreciate the trio’s unhinged stage act, featuring raw-throated rants from the tall, muscular Lemoine and the timeless three-chord riffing of Nicolas, who could pass for the twin of Booger from Revenge of the Nerds.
Like all great outsider artists, the members of Cheveu seem unaware of how bizarre they actually are. Lemoine has cited ABBA as an influence in interviews, and tour footage shows the band headbanging to G N’ R and AC/DC. You almost take the bait, until you cue up a track like 2008’s “Happiness,” in which Lemoine recites a perverted Philip Seymour Hoffman monologue from the Todd Solondz film of the same name. As with Cheveu as a whole, it’s likely that Godard never imagined Franco-American relations playing out quite like this.
-By Hank Shteamer
You should definitely watch part 2 right now.