Camille, The Barbican, London
On a darkened stage, a single bulb radiates, as Camille wraps her long white robes around it, rotating while whispering her opening track ‘Aujourd’Hui.’ She slowly opens the gown, creating shadows on a back wall as if stage curtains are being drawn open. The show has begun.
And what a show. The French singer Camille Dalmais is a consummate performer; we get shadow puppetry, feral dancing, comic routines, moonwalking in socks borrowed from the audience, Edith Piaf parodies, and the splits. At times, it feels more like cabaret, exhibiting a music hall bawdiness and showmanship.
But throughout it all, Camille’s voice surprises, delights and impresses: she can sing the simplest melody and it sounds gorgeously pure, but she also uses her throat as an instrument, and an experimental one at that, coaxing out all sorts of inventive effects. She clicks and hisses and screeches and pants, rhythmically pats her chest and taps her larynx, manages that beatboxing trick of having two vocal lines simultaneously, and does a very convincing impression of a flute. Her band play guitar and piano, violin, and double bass, though musically it’s playful too: on ‘Allez Allez Allez’ they create stomping beat by, well, actually stomping, banging out a rhythm with their feet on a little amplified stage. On ‘She Was’, the pianist draws a continuous note out by running his finger round the rim of a glass.
While this Parisian chanteuse is always entertaining, she’s sometimes also annoying. The manic pixie dream girl with added Gallic quirk thing can grate; ‘Bubble Lady’, full of cutesy chirrups and bubble noises, is irksomely twee while a song running through the alphabet is overlong, a joke stretched too far.
Overall, that’s a minor gripe really. ‘Mars is No Fun’ is actually terrific fun; ‘Cats and Dogs’, in which she makes the audience ‘miaow-miaow’ and ‘ruff-ruff’ along, is daft but joyous. She does a sultry cover of ‘Too Drunk to Fuck’ by the Dead Kennedys, which she recorded a bossa nova version of for the band Nouvelle Vague. ‘Gospel With No Lord’ is another highlight: a funky, funny gospel-inflected track in which she chalks her vocal talents up to, not God, but her extended family: “I didn’t get it from the lord… I got it from my sister… from my father-in-law…” This goes on till she’s crediting her hamster-in-law. Wherever it came from, Camille has certainly got something special going on.
MARS IS NO FUN
ALLEZ ALLEZ ALLEZ
MY MAN IS MARRIED BUT NOT TO ME
MON PETIT VIEUX
Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedy’s cover)
Gospel with No Lord
Wanna be Startin’ Something (Michael Jackson cover)
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