The eponymous François Marry is growing down, and it’s a wonderful thing to behold. Once a touring member of indiepop royalty Camera Obscura, he would go on to produce solo work which hovered on the despondent side of romantic, before recruiting North Africa’s foremost mountain range to back him up. The music got a bit less heart-rending, but it was still mellow as a slightly cynical koala bear drinking herbal tea – this reviewer even recalls them being (aptly) introduced at one festival as ‘Sunday afternoon music’.
There was, however, a perceptible shift with 2014’s Piano Ombre; a formerly absent element of the West African influences so clearly audible in the band’s sound was now very much in effect. Yes – fun! Sure, there was still melancholy, but it was melancholy to which one could dance. With March 2017’s Solide Mirage we got a whole new bundle of, well, not joy, but joyous gloom.
Joyous gloom translates very well into a live show it seems. François & the Atlas Mountains are like a precision glitter bomb going off in the equally glittery environs of Hackney’s Moth Club – an old veteran’s social club which now serves as HQ for Eat Your Own Ears (it’s an acronym for ‘Memorable Order of Tin Hats’ rather than a lepidopterological reference in case that was bothering you). They’re tight, they’re funky and they’re loud – they even break off into the occasional dance routine.
The total effect is to remind you why, at a time when you can access pretty much the entire pantheon of Western music with a strong Wifi signal/decent 4G package from your cellular provider, live music is still a beautiful thing -alongside providing musicians with a way to actually make some pennies. The stage is low and close at Moth Club, but it’s like these floppy-haired (mostly) Frenchmen have been beamed down from space to give us a taste of punchy, funky moon music.
Numbers that are a bit more restrained on record are given extra heft, with big '80s melodies blown up to jumbotron scale (“Tendre Est l'Âme”) and those trebly, almost liquid, West African-style guitar phrases giving foreground rather than background colour (“Apocalyse à Ipsos”); tastefully rough edges are given to more business-like numbers (“La Vérité” – though I think the sound engineer might’ve wanted to have a think about the levels here).
As is almost always the case in this at indie and indie-adjacent gigs in this so often joyless city, there are some questions one could ask of the audience. Namely, why aren’t you dancing, you fuckers? (A pass for those here for the older work, who seem a little thrown by the bombast.) There’s a group quite clearly putting in a shift for your entertainment, show some appreciation. It’s to the band’s credit that they take the lead on this front, and even more to their credit that it works – somewhere toward the middle of the set there’s some vaguely rhythmic movement and we’ve got something that looks like a proper gig.
It’s a shame, however, that François and co. choose to indulgently slow it down so much towards the end of the set (with the refreshing interjection of the Joy Division-eque "Bête Morcelée"), with a consequent loss of the brilliant energy of the rest of the show. For the first time it begins to drag, though we are nearly up to the hour mark at this point. By the time we reach “Les Plus Beaux” for the encore, the dark shadow of Tuesday morning is weighing heavily on Monday night’s defiant fun.
No matter though – this is still a thoroughly enjoyable show, and delightful evidence that musicians can actually get more fun, and command greater energy, as they grow older.