Live Music + Gig Reviews

Sébastien Tellier @ ICA, London

23 July 2006

Sébastien Tellier

Sébastien Tellier

How many press-ups must a man complete before you call him a man? Why must smoke get in your nose? Will lipstick on your monitor tell on you? And furthermore, was prog a doughnut? Alas, none of these vital questions would truly get answered by Sébastien Tellier‘s strangely ill-attended performance at the imperiously-monickered Institute Of Contemporary Arts. C’est la vie.

Judging by the lack of true believers at said venue, it’s probably fair to say that Parisian Seb is a man who needs an introduction. But something so conventional just would only hold a distorted mirror to a performance that was either the inscrutable work of (steady now!) mad genius, or the result of an evening’s ingestion of deadly lager pints.

It was easy to read last year’s Politics album as a rushed attempt to get Tellier product onto the market to a world still unswayed by single track downloads. The sighing glory of signature tune La Ritournelle ensnared all who came into ear-‘ole orbit, but there’s more than a just a frisson of swiftly-upgraded demos to pad out proceedings.

Not one to miss a promotional opportunity when theysee one, the good people at his label have thought to call his forthcoming UK-only album Universe. Those ahead of me will have already clicked that such is the title of Seb’s contribution to Daft Punk‘s new movie-thing Electroma. And it’s with Universe that Tellier kicks off this ‘concert’.

And a beautiful thing it is too. With just the Devo-attired Simon Dalmais (brother of Camille, doncha know) for company on a trusty Yamaha (keyboard, not motor cycle – it wasn’t that mental). Seb sings with the torchy sincerity of a man with the Billie Holliday blues. Hippy hair and vagabond beard may exaggerate his receding hairline, but this is a man with nothing to hide and everything to share.

Except his fags. Which is just as well really, considering Seb harbours a penchant for sticking the old death sticks four-square up his hooter. This is a man who truly wants to take you through the smoke rings of his mind. Maybe the lurch in contrast from the sublime to the ridiculous isn’t great for building up a momentum, but in Seb’s world those two concepts go together like bop-shoo-bop-rama-lama-ding-dong.

After regaling us with some hard-to-decipher pronunciations on the state of jazz, Seb found some time to rattle off a few urgent press-ups. Not bad. In the ’70’s they would have called him an all-round entertainer. Although contemporary cynics may have added some more choice epithets.

And only Seb could have taken us so gently into the pleasure and pain of sweet regret that constitutes Broadway before abruptly following it up with a kind of screechy prog parping that Keith Emerson might have thought a tad excessive.

In another mercifully brief prog excursion, we found Seb just a couple of octaves away from some Focus-like melismatic yodelling. Perhaps it was an effort to prove that his dad really was in Magma. A Dutch too much in anyone’s language.

In the interim, Tellier gave us ‘a song for French people’, a subdued Tony Allen-less Wonderafrica, a naturally anticipated La Ritournelle, and finally, most affectingly, a bare Fantino. It should be added that before Seb reached the sign-off, he managed to squeeze in a little more spontaneous working-out, nasal cigs, and some peculiar – relatively speaking, of course – snogging of loudspeakers.

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Sébastien Tellier. But be careful, we’d like him back.

buy Sébastien Tellier MP3s or CDs
Spotify Sébastien Tellier on Spotify

More on Sébastien Tellier
This Music Made Me: Sébastien Tellier
Sébastien Tellier – Domesticated
Bandcamp in the time of Corona: a beginner’s guide
Sébastien Tellier – L’Aventura
Sébastien Tellier – Confection