Live Music + Gig Reviews

Charlotte Gainsbourg @ Somerset House, London

19 July 2012

Charlotte Gainsbourg Some performers give everything when they perform. Leave themselves smeared across the stage in their attempts to connect with an audience. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Effort.

For Charlotte Gainsbourg, not so much. This was a performance perched on the brink between nonchalance and indifference. Where Westlife demonstrated that a stool can be used as the basis of an entire career, the platform for which to launch a thousand impassioned codas, Gainsbourg merely sits. Rarely making eye-contact. When she spoke, the interactions were polite, but also clipped, somewhat guarded. It was hard to determine any connection between her and that which was played. They almost didn’t always feel like her songs.

It almost didn’t always feel like her gig. In fact, the one thing that you assumed she did have full control over was the wardrobe, given that she was stunningly chic in her all-white ensemble, while the rest of the band looked like ice cream men about to decorate the spare room.

The impression that Gainsbourg was happy to be a bit-part player in her own show was reinforced by the amount of centre stage that Connan Mockasin (the New Zealander who has been touring with Gainsbourg recently) took up. His declarations were far more effusive. His voice was far more theatrical and showy than Gainsbourg’s breathy whisper. We even got two of his songs; It’s Choade My Dear, for which Gainsbourg retreated (both literally and metaphorically) to play drums, and Forever Dolphin Love.

Sadly, both wafted along in fairly incidental fashion, dreamy noodles that were almost impossible to get excited about. But large sections of Gainsbourg’s own material also didn’t translate. Greenwich Mean Time lost its eerie antiseptic modernity, replaced by a faux disco stomp. The heaviness of the bass and electronics on the opening Terrible Angels totally overcame Gainsbourg’s voice and a cover of David Bowie‘s Ashes To Ashes reduced the song to a sleek empty vessel.

Despite this, there is something intriguing about Gainsbourg, darting between the ingenue and the bruised survivor with tales to tell. Her aloofness suggests she’s hiding something incredibly interesting. So when we get a flicker of emotion it’s enthralling. We get it in the skanking clank of Heaven Can Wait. We get it in the nursery rhyme simplicity of Got To Let Go, which Mockasin and Gainsbourg perform on their haunches at the front of the stage as if comforting a child with a grazed knee. And we get it, most vividly, in The Songs That We Sing.

But they are just flickers in a evening which never properly catches light. Occasionally beguiling, occasionally dull, never unpleasant, just merely ok. Gainsbourg is memorable. Her music, in this setting, isn’t.

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