The set times sheet promised a lengthy show from Camille Dalmais this evening.
The Parisian vocalist, in town to promote third album Music Hole ahead of an autumn tour, would play a set that timepieces would later claim lasted two and a half hours. In truth, by its euphoric end, and despite lengthy ad libbing and an even lengthier encore, it didn’t feel anything like that. Taking to a minimalist stage in the orange dress modelled on her album cover, together with a matching pashmina-hood that suggested a fusion of Jedi and Jawa, Camille stood in stark contrast to her seven backing vocalists and pianist who in turn were dressed entirely in black. Between them they’d wheel out everything from beatbox duets to loops of words in French and English, all of it tied together by Camille’s remarkable voice and charisma.
Looking like a long-lost elder sister of Juliette Lewis and switching between English and French like a less dotty version of Jane Birkin, Camille divided her set principally between new tracks from Music Hole and well-received interpretations of tracks from Le Fil. Of the latter, some were almost beyond recognition, Janine III speeding up and slowing and featuring an astonishing adlibbed intro with Camille, circling like a child with ADHD, at its centre. Baby Carny Bird suddenly emerges from improvisational noodling. Au Port has two of the vocalists hitting the backs of two others to make the track’s distinctive vocal wobble. Only Ta Doleur’s closing movements suffer from a relative lack of dramatic oomph from the supporting cast.
During the new record’s Kaffir she does a hop-skip-dance-flounce movement that underlines her cheery individuality. Where Björk or Róisín Murphy might delight in outlandish headgear to spotlight their lead in shows, Camille is content with her minimalist couture statements, allowing her writing in general and her voice in particular to shine.
And what a voice. At one point she shrieks like Diamanda Galas. Elsewhere she does a passable impression of a gospel diva. She joins in with the quickfire beatboxing on more than one occasion before retreating behind the grand piano for the chanson-like Cats And Dogs (the audience later gets divided into felines and canines, meowing and barking at her and each other while she conducts). She spans octaves like they’re trifling speedbumps. Yet she’s never shrill, never domineering. Along with her English producer MaJiKer (vocals and piano), she seems to be enjoying herself as part of a group, caring little for dominating the other musicians and instead enjoying their performance as much as her own.
Curiosities and asides consisted of a glowing orange skipping rope, asking questions sourced from a London newspaper, a mention of Boris Johnson and a bonkers rendering of Too Drunk To Fuck (complete with rhythmic hiccoughs) all thrown in to the mix. But perhaps the evening’s strangest moment came with a scatty interpretation of, of all things, Humpty Dumpty. This could happily have been dropped, but it emphasised her joi de vivre and willingness to experiment, to try anything on for size, however ridiculous. Her spirit of adventure deserves applause.
By 10pm the main set has ended but they’re back after the briefest of pauses for Money Note, the new album’s standout track. Each vocalist takes a turn centre stage with their vocal line of the track, Camille emerging last and transformed into a slinky black dress once it’s up and running and then quietening it all down only to build to crescendo once more. As befits the track’s spectacularity, a gold lam curtain appears at the back of the stage. Unsurprisingly, it gets the biggest cheer of the night.
During the encore set we get material from the first album, Le Sac De Filles. Compared to that which went before, this material is the weakest of the evening, despite its Music Hole glossover, but her sizeable contingent of French fans in the audience know them and readily sing along.
Camille and her backers leave the stage to wild applause and a sound man appears to adjust – take down? – the microphone; the poor dear gets a vicious booing for his travails, and Camille swiftly re-emerges for Sanges Sweet, the concluding Music Hole track. It features her deepest vocal lines, making her sound like a low tenor. It underlines that, though she may giggle in the direction of Celine and Mariah, Camille’s voice is easily the equal of them and her intellectual humour is infinitely preferable to them. But her individuality, in writing and performance, is what takes her into a different league, one populated sparsely by artists of the calibre of Björk, rather than mere singers.