Les Yeux Noirs
at Joe's Pub,
New York, NY
(8 September 2003)

As Les Yeux Noirs, a French seven-piece klezmer jazz band led by an electrifying duo of violin virtuosos, rolled into the first of a few sound checks at the posh, decadent Joe's Pub in New York City's Greenwich Village on a humid Monday night, an abrupt explosion of violins, cellos, electric guitar, bass and clanging percussion offered the crowd a teasing and savory dollop of the even more bellicose jams to come.

When even a 60-second sound check rouses the crowd into a whistling ovation, it's safe to say the guys on stage are doing all right. The violin-drenched cacophony, characterized by a vague, Middle-Eastern tinge and an obvious indebtedness to both gypsy jazz and cajun music, sounded like Charlie Daniels warming up at a carnival gone wonderfully wrong.

"I would like to say that was not the concert. That was just a sound check," said one of the band's two frontmen to the audience's chuckling approval with his thick, French accent. But after he tore his bow to shreds during a frenetic, rollicking violin solo that brought the crowd to its feet only half way into the show's first tune, it probably would not have been hard to convince anyone there that these guys were a lot more than "all right."

When the band suddenly paused halfway into its second song and howled an ecstatic "hey!" before ascending into another electrifying jam initiated, once again, by the band's melodically furious and impassioned violin duo, it was quickly apparent that Les Yeux Noirs is a band for whom a show is a failure if a single person in the house isn't romping or fist-pumping off to the next galaxy. This is a band that comes to rock, and rock very, very hard.

It is difficult, really, to tell the songs of Les Yeux Noirs apart, as though the band members are so well attuned with one another as to prevent any single element to distract them from its invincibly synchronized rapture. No one song necessarily stands out, but each is a bold testament to Les Yeux Noirs' boundless energy, enthusiasm and prowess.

They do, however, have a penchant for the occasional ballad, and of the few more subdued tunes they showcased at Joe's Pub, one was more exquisitely painful than the next. Fragile croons drift atop a shuffling percussion that sounds like high tide coming in at the beach below your open window, while the occasional lilt and wail of a violin or acoustic guitar perfects some stinging sense of loss. A pale, violet wash of light swept the stage from above as the band sank deeper into its own captivating pathos.

Even here, though, the band couldn't resist an explosive burst into some heavier, restless crescendos on a couple of initially softer numbers. It was as though the violins and cellos they held concealed bundles of dynamite within their frames. And, judging from the ceaseless appreciation with which the crowd received each successive jam, it seemed that if Les Yeux Noirs had indeed engulfed Joe's Pub in a swarm of flames, most people would have kept to their hoots and shuffles rather than flee for their lives.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 20 September 2003

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