In the beginning was the note, and the note was B. A quiet, soft, sustained B, humming away in the background for a good 20 minutes before Camille and her two band members took to the stage.
This same note begins her album, Le Fil (the thread), continues through all of its songs (it's the thread that links them), and then lasts for half an hour after the last song has faded - or until you can be bothered to put something else on the CD-player. This playful artiness in many ways sums up France's favourite new pop star, as anyone who saw her debut UK show at the Jazz Café in May will testify.
With the kind of attention-deficit disorder that one associates with a precociously creative child who has just drunk two litres of cola, she managed to find time between songs to impress us with her burping skills, tell jokes, collect audience members' handbags, and make the Dead Kennedys' "Too Drunk to Fuck" (a song she covered with Nouvelle Vague) a Sensurround-style experience, by pinching a couple of bottles of booze from the bar and sprinkling their contents over the audience.
In someone less talented and less mercurially intelligent, this might have all been a bit wearing, but because her songs and her performance are so original and compelling, it was easy to give her the benefit of the doubt. (In an appearance on Jools Holland's Later..., she wrote the title of her album on her face with a black marker pen while singing - eat your heart out, Prince!)
Much of tonight's set was a repeat of the Jazz Café gig, including some of the jokes, yet it still felt just as fresh and captivating. Le Fil is a studio album relying largely on Camille's multitracked vocals and human beatbox skills, so the question was always going to be whether she could conjure up a credible live facsimile of its eccentric universe. The surprise is not that she managed it, but the degree of freedom that the band had to improvise and expand each song at will, and how organic the whole thing sounded.
Once Camille had created a live vocal loop of layered whoops, squeals, claps and body slaps, the bassist Martin Garnet and pianist MaJiKer had something to build on. Garnet doubled on bass drum and high-hat cymbals (at the same time as playing his upright bass), and MaJiKer was as adept as Camille at getting all sorts of sounds by slapping himself and slapping her.
But if all this sounds overly quirky or kitsch, as soon as a gentle, pretty ballad such as "Quand Je Marche" began, we were transported somewhere else, and it was hard to believe that we were listening to the same artist.
Camille has two voices: the high, precise, little-girl one, and the soft, lower, Parisian purr. In a way, they serve to represent how she is divided between her impetuous need to joke around on stage, and her desire to be taken seriously as a songwriter and musician. Half of the pleasure of watching her is seeing her walk this fine line between irritating and brilliant, while coming out on the side of brilliant most of the time.
And the audience was captivated. I didn't notice a single person wander off to the bar during her entire hour-and-a-half set, and when she made some capricious demand of the audience, such as, "Can you do the wind so I can do the sea?", they instantly conjured up a gale of whooshes and howls while she sang the operatic middle-eight of "Au Port".
Most of us left the Scala with smiles on our faces and that B still buzzing around our heads (my computer is still humming that B to me now, as I write this).
So, forget superficial comparisons to Björk, Lene Lovich or Kate Bush. Camille deserves better. She is by turns surprising, amusing and moving - what more could you want from a pop star?Reuse content