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Cheers to The Chap, London’s own “experimental pop outlaws,” for bringing a hot taste of Texas back to NYC at Cake Shop on a cold and drizzly Saturday night.  They’d been on the top of our list as a British band not to miss on the first night at SXSW, but pity us and our plane delays.  We landed in Austin too late to make our pick of showcases, including theirs.

The Chap were chuffed to have made it to NYC, obvious from singer Johannes von Weizsäcker’s endearing opening banter on the band’s cross-country drive from Austin, which became more an odd mantra of “police lanes, burgers, police lanes, burgers,” than your typical road trip tale.  He seems to like his slogans, since towards the end of the set, he went into another, in the form of “lunch, guns, lunch and guns…”

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The band met at music college in West London, but at times, they seem more like actors (or great hams), since their stage show is equal parts performance art and rock show.  Early in the set, Weizsäcker held his arms up to announce, “We are oozing emotion!”  Indeed.  The band has a knack for making their show an event, an evening of fine entertainment, using everything from syncopated dance bits and exaggerated eye movements to help sell their songs (not that they need to, since the songs are so tight and imaginative, you can’t help but listen).

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The Chap are The Talking Heads meets Monty Python, pop rock dadaists with a keen sense of the power of humor, rhythm and unpredictable pop melodies.  Songs like “Carlos Walter Wendy Stanley” and “Ethnic Instrument” showcased the band’s inventiveness in using samples and snippets of found noise.  “Fun and Interesting” was epic, though Weizsäcker introduced it slyly as a “corporate motivational anthem.”

Wow!  A band that actually does break new bounds!  That’s fresh.  And I like it.  And they liked it too, since they had as much of a blast playing under the Christmas lights of Cake Shop as did those of us who packed the venue, bouncing ’til the sweat poured down.

Big hit “Proper Rock”, which Weizsäcker touted as such (over and over again, as “this is the hit”), was an over-the-top confection of pure pop rock perfection.  I, for one, couldn’t help but be instantly drawn to a song that starts off in a Bowie-esque tone, with lyrics, sung in the dryest, most detached British way:

Outer space is not a better place, Grace,
Proper songs for real folk,
Art, art, art, don’t make no rave, Dave,

And with a chorus line of “Proper songs about girls and clubbing. (Clubbing!),” there’s not much else one could ask of a band.  Really.–Madeline Virbasius-Walsh/photos by Scott Irvine