The band gathered on stage to saunter through the songs of that romantic old reprobate are having trouble generating the requisite atmosphere. There are a number of factors against them. For one thing, the chaos and bustle of the Edinburgh Festival in no way suggests thoughts of Paris; unless it's Paris of the evening of the World Cup final. Then there's the security barrier erected in front of the stage, which further impedes the band's efforts to convince us that we are in a smoky Parisian club: music this intimate needs to connect physically and emotionally with an audience, and barriers, real or metaphorical, are not conducive to this.
There is another problem, of course, one which would not be remedied even if the gig were taking place within spitting distance of the Seine. The band just don't seem to get Gainsbourg. They clearly love and respect his work - but love and respect do not necessarily equate with artistic perception.
Most people have a sense of Gainsbourg's work even if they aren't familiar with the songs themselves. Pulp, Stereolab, Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan have all learnt from Gainsbourg, and invested their own music with some of his qualities: ragged romanticism; self-regarding theatricality; a finely tuned pop sensibility; and a passion for sleaze. The musicians responsible for Je T'aime Gainsbourg got it right some of the time. There are some songs that it's hard to fudge - the woozy allure of "69 Annee Erotique" came across well, and there was tender humour in "Ourang-Outang", a song about the pet monkey which Jane Birkin gave Gainsbourg as a present.
But the song which everyone has come to hear - Birkin and Gainsbourg's breathy "Je T'aime Moi Non Plus" - was like a bad trip at a family wedding reception. You may think that to reduce this landmark of pop eroticism to a chaste sway-along would be difficult, but don't forget that time and familiarity have dulled some of its sparkle. It would take a group of intuitive artfulness to regain the vitality. This lot were no such group.
They made one good choice, having Belle and Sebastian close the first act gave you a lift as you drifted off to the bar, but what was missing was the sweat and the sleaze, the gorgeous grubbiness of Gainsbourg's work. His finest moments were driven by something that was absent from this show: a thrust, a surge; the surge of Serge.
Ryan GilbeyReuse content