I’m not quite sure at what point I got old, although it appears to have happened at some point in the bizarre time warp that has been the COVID era. It is certainly confirmed as I open the doors to the auditorium of Lafayette to be confronted by a sea of faces much younger than mine. Those same faces also wear the evidence of serious pre-gig refreshment, of both the legal and illegal varieties.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying that energy levels are high and it feels like a proper Friday night gig, even before Papooz take to the stage. To say it is a receptive crowd would be an understatement. Whoops, cheers and rapturous applause greet every song and between-song utterance from the band.
Fortunately, Papooz deliver on their end of the bargain. Both band and crowd are here to have fun. The impression I had garnered of them from their records of being coolly detached is turned on its head. Instead, their performance is marked by unabashed enthusiasm, an infectious sense of silliness, and a willingness to engage, tongue only slightly in cheek, in all the tropes of the rock show.
As soon as the band are on stage, my partner offers the observation that the band’s main members, Ulysse Cottin and Armand Penicaut, look like Luke and Owen Wilson. It’s a comparison that extends beyond their physical likeness (which in fairness might have been over-stated by the venue’s dim lighting). The actors are longtime collaborators of Wes Anderson’s, and there is something highly Wes Anderson-esque about the band, particularly on the cuts from their latest record, None of This Matters Now. They seem like a band he has dreamed up for one of his films.
The sound is excellent throughout and those new songs, slower and more relaxed than their predecessors, sound lush and gorgeous.The duo trade vocals throughout, and their harmonies and individual vocal lines float beautifully on top of the music. It helps that their other band members are top drawer musicians too. The group’s sound is tight without sounding clinical.
It’s on the older, more up tempo songs that the musicianship really comes through, particularly from Cottin and Penicaut. Careening through funk, disco and blues rock, they tear into their guitar playing with abandon, shredding, soloing and engaging in the kind of showmanship that has the audience eating out of the palms of their hands.
Fun has often been seen as a dirty word in music. Good music is serious music; po-faced indie boys in dark clothes and dry ice demonstrating maintaining scowls and thousand yard stares. There is something incredibly refreshing about seeing a band wholeheartedly embracing an ethos of fun and making it so central to the live experience. Everybody in Lafayette had smiles on their faces for the duration, and that buzz stayed with us all the way down the Northern Line as we journeyed home.
Papooz will almost certainly be graduating to bigger venues soon and you could do a lot worse than getting yourself along to one of their shows. In a year that has already provided some great gig moments, this was another highlight.
Words by Will Collins