Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Monday 28 June 2010
The daughter of French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and English actress Jane Birkin, Charlotte Gainsbourg seems to have the lot. A Cannes Best Actress award arrived last year for Antichrist.
Her well-received third studio album, IRM, was written and produced by Beck; her previous album by Air, with lyrics from Jarvis Cocker. Gainsbourg is also gorgeous, all Gallic grace and willowy limbs; she even manages to make a pair of tight black leather trousers look cool – and on one of the hottest nights of the year so far.
But Gainsbourg's performance is perhaps a little too "cool", in both senses of the word. Her voice, which chimes through clear and lovely on record, actually sounds muffled here – on "Greenwich Mean Time" it gets lost under the weight of beats and electronic noodles. She's no great showman, offering instead a restrained insouciance.
To be fair, Gainsbourg is pretty new to touring and this is her first live performance in London. But while the new record is like a many-sided gem (each time you listen, a different angle catches the light), live it seems to shimmer less. Although the multilayered percussion and electronica, from a multi-tasking band, is enjoyable, we get more of a glimpse of Gainsbourg on the simpler tracks, where you can (almost) hear the lyrics. "In the End" is an Elliott Smith-esque ballad with a folksy arrangement on xylophone and acoustic guitar, and reveals her voice's smoky softness.
Another notable highlight is the cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman". Breathy, sweet and yet knowing, her beguilingly feminine delivery puts quite a different spin on the track.
Other covers are, appropriately enough, picked from her dad's back catalogue. The final song, an upbeat cover of his calypso pop track "Couleur Café", ends on a sunny note, maracas aloft – they all seem to be having, you know, fun. In the last moments, that cool sheen slips a bit and it's no bad thing.
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