This post was written by senior staff writer Jenna Bernick
Autre Ne Veut may have found the key to gaining attention as a new artist: Do weird shit. Arthur Ashin, the man behind the pretentious French name (which means “I want no other”), never wants to conform to the audience’s expectations.
“And I said, baby” from the song “Play by Play” are the first words we hear – both on his first full studio album “Anxiety” and at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Friday night. They set the tone – sexy, angsty and balladic. Ashin wails and writhes onstage, equally undermining and accentuating his infectious pop/R&B with jumbled, simplistic lyrics.
Before playing “Don’t Ever Look Back,” he asked the venue to turn on some lights that shine on the audience, not the stage. “Now you guys are here, too,” he told us. He edged into the crowd after the song began, following a path the audience created for him and perhaps acting like a bigger artist than he possibly could be.
But from the start, Ashin wanted you to think he was in his own world. From his initial delayed appearance on stage, to his specific ticks, like his robotic dance moves and falling-to-knees-dramatically at the end of several songs, new layers were added to what on the album felt slightly homogenous.
The smooth falsettos he quickly switches to on the album often translated to whispers into the microphone due to his overworked voice, which by the end of the short 11-song set couldn’t muster many sounds.
He belts and oversings, but knows it. He never put perfection over emotion.
His voice became one of the few instruments you could see on the stage, with so much of the music’s intricacies coming from the MacBook’s prerecorded tracks. Pop music’s computer-generated components are a reality, but it seemed like a cop-out for Autre Ne Veut considering that even some of the female vocal sounds on the album came from a computer on the stage. Maybe they were never even derived from a human voice.
For an artist just really getting attention this year though (thanks to positive reviews of “Anxiety”), his risky performance was refreshing. Ashin adjusted the tempos and styles of some of the songs dramatically for the stage: Sometimes these moves seemed intentional while others were less calculated – perhaps from inexperience or a drug-filled pre-show routine.
Autre Ne Veut saved his closest thing to an anthemic pop hit, “Counting,” for an encore. The whole room belted with him to the most discernable lyrics on the album: “I’m counting on the idea that you’ll stay” – helping Autre Ne Veut to defy expectations one last time. This time, it probably went over most heads, in a song not about an impending breakup as it might seem, but his dying grandmother.
Below: Autre Ne Veut plays an acoustic version of “Counting” for Pitchfork.TV