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Music Review

La Roux casts a synth-pop spell

Elly Jackson, lead singer of La Roux, immediately got the fans on their feet. Elly Jackson, lead singer of La Roux, immediately got the fans on their feet. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / November 17, 2010

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There was a moment at the beginning of La Roux’s near-sold out show on Monday when it appeared that the crowd could be in for a very long night. Lead singer Elly Jackson, the vaguely androgynous frontwoman of the retro-electro UK band, burst on the stage snarling “Tonight out on the streets I’m going to follow you.’’ That was all it took to ignite the band’s battalion of fans into a hip-swaying singalong that persisted most of the show. But when Jackson attempted to bring her voice up a register for the lyric “I can see you burning with desire for a kiss’’ in the song “Tigerlily,’’ she wrestled with the notes, landing just shy of her intended target with an uncomfortable and dissonant thud.

This proved to one of the rare disappointing moments of La Roux’s set. Jackson, who looks like the love child of actress Tilda Swinton and Belgian comic book hero Tintin, cast a spell of revisionist 1980s synth-pop. The band performed nearly every track from its self-titled debut, which pays homage to Britain’s 1980s musical halcyon days of bands such as the Human League and Yaz.

Jackson, the public face of La Roux (co-conspirator Ben Langmaid stays behind the scenes), was born after these bands had reached their artistic zenith. Still, she possesses an understanding of what makes a good electro-pop song. While machines churn behind her, she is anything but mechanical. Like Alison Moyet in the ’80s, she is the necessary emotional foil to the chilly synthesizers.

She has the stage presence, but it would have been thrilling to hear the band take more chances. La Roux replicated its one album closely. There were moments of reinvention, such as a brilliant, Erasure-inspired revision of “Bulletproof,’’ but these moments were rare. Regardless, the fact that this band could pull off an engaging show playing selections from a single album demonstrates the strength of its songwriting — and Jackson’s command of an audience.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.

LA ROUX
At: House of Blues, Monday