About halfway through Datarock’s March 27 show at Safari Sam’s on Sunset Boulevard, it dawned on me that not enough bands aspire to be the next Devo. Every so often a band comes along that dresses the part, but its sound is usually a hot mess. (If “fun” is the only positive adjective you can use to describe a live act, chances are it’s not really all that positive.) Other bands sound great on the dance floor but lack the stage charisma to make the soberest crowd feel dosed. But as the superstars of Norway’s new-rave (whatever that means) scene jumped around the tiny stage during that stop on their first West Coast sojourn, I swear I saw a little Devo up there.
What with tongue-in-cheek dance-tinged rockers being the number-one export of Scandinavia these days, it should come as no surprise that Datarock falls squarely within said category. After milling in the same circles as Annie and Royksopp, Fredrik Saroea and Ketil Mosnes released a few EPs that gathered nominal buzz outside of their hometown of Bergen. With their matching tracksuits and ironically enthusiastic poses, a Datarock live show is intended as spectacle, but they have some wonderfully hooky tracks in their hip pockets to fall back on.
To gear up for their first stateside release, Datarock Datarock (Nettwerk), the band came to Los Angeles armed with an irresistible first single, which they closed their thirty-five-minute set with. “Fa Fa Fa” evokes the Talking Heads at its speediest or Stereolab at its least precious. Mosnes tore through the oh-so-funky bass line, and Datarock won over any possible crowd members who weren’t on board by that point.
Jokers to the end, the band that proclaim on their MySpace that they want the people to “do the dirty . . . the dirty dancing!” were sent off the stage to a timeless slice of ham: Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley’s “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” The houselights brightened, but Datarock couldn’t bring themselves to depart, welcoming the audience to join the sing-along. Was it more than a little dorky? Perhaps. But for those singing along, it wasn’t all that far from the truth.