Les Yeux Noirs | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Les Yeux Noirs

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Though this Parisian band blends French Gypsy jazz, Rom music, and klezmer, last January the siblings at the heart of the group--Olivier Slabiak, who plays violin and sings, and his brother Eric, who plays violin and accordion--told the French newspaper L'Humanite that during the late 90s they considered themselves purists. Back then they were keen to avoid being lumped in with all the "world beat" artists adulterating their music with faux hip-hop, and at least in comparison they did sound pretty old-fashioned: cimbalom and violin dominated the instrumentation, and the lyrics, when there were any, were in Romany. But Les Yeux Noirs never wore that purism easily, and on their two most recent albums, especially last year's Tchorba (World Village), they've abandoned it entirely in order to express their "rock side"--which apparently requires keyboards, samples, bendy electric guitar lines, skittering jazz breakdowns, and original lyrics in French. In interviews the Slabiak brothers make much of their Gypsy roots, but they're just as proud of the classical training they received from an early age--and ethnic pride plus rock 'n' roll aspirations plus classical violin often equals painful geekitude. Tchorba sometimes does sound more like something you'd hear on a tidy college campus than in a boisterous bar in Clignancourt, but the tempos are so driving, the lyrics so nakedly and unabashedly sentimental, and the liquid melodies so energetic and infectious that you'd need to have a pretty big stick up your ass to grumble about the creepily perfect technique and control-freak production. Chava Alberstein headlines. Wed 2/1, 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $20-$45.

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