Of the many things that can be said about the performances of Dengue Fever and Rachid Taha at Central Park’s SummerStage, the biggest link between the two is a good performer’s ability to keep the audience entranced when they don’t speak the same language.
Dengue Fever are American based, but to complement the group’s Cambodian pop-inspired surf-psych-rock, front-woman Chhom Nimol sings primarily in Cambodian – though they did perform “Tiger Phone Card,” one of two songs in English from their newest release, Venus on Earth.
Dengue Fever: “Tiger Phone Card” (download)
Their album is easily one of the best released in 2008 thus far, but their live show still tops it. Their SummerStage show wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as their show at Brooklyn’s Southpaw earlier this year (Indonesian beer specials = sorry, no review), but Dengue Fever are one of the most exciting, energetic and interactive bands currently performing. With constant smiles on their faces, they jump up and down, have special parts for audience sing-a-longs, and Nimol enchants with swirling hands and exotic dance moves. The group communicates through facial expressions and body language, like a group of longtime friends or even family. In a way, watching them feels akin to being in some sort of secret club.
Rachid Taha (seen above) is a Algerian-French man with the stage presence and personality to rival any American rocker. Sauntering on-stage in a suit and fedora, cigarette in hand, he was European chic, but with the long, messy hair and stubble of a man who’s been on the road.
Singing mostly in Arabic (but occasionally French), Taha blended modern rock and pop with the sounds of his Algerian heritage. Anyone who’s been to one of the more authentic Hookah Cafes in Queens will find themselves wondering if they’ve unknowingly heard one of his songs before. The crowd was in a constant state of motion, unable to resist Taha’s charm and hand-clap dance rhythms.
Like Dengue Fever, Taha performed one song with English (though not entirely), which was his translation/cover of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” (he calls it “Rock el Casbah”). Combined with his casual treatment of the Algerian flag he brought on stage, one could deduce his frustrations with Algerian and or/French government, though he only remarked on George W. Bush (unfavorably, of course).
Rachid Taha: “Rock El Casbah (Clash Cover)” (download)
Openers Apollo Heights put on an intriguing and somewhat perplexing performance of dream pop and noise pop tinged with prog, soul and who knows what else, but in the shadow of Dengue Fever and Rachid Taha, they were a distant memory.
You can see more of my pictures from this show here.