Charlotte Gainsbourg brings the ennui to Somerset House
If the pained Gallic screams of “Charlotte, je t’aime!” directed towards the stage tonight are anything to go by, it would seem that Ms Gainsbourg has built up quite a cult following in the UK. The notoriety of her parents, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and starring roles in arthouse films like Antichrist and I’m Not There have increased the statuesque chanteuse’s profile no end, but her musical career has been intriguing and eclectic in its own right. Collaborations with Beck and Jarvis Cocker have yielded several off-kilter pop gems over the past few years, enough to pack out the scenic Somerset House courtyard on the final night of its Summer Series, and several admirers are making their presence felt.
Gainsbourg’s distinctive voice has always been slight and her records rely heavily on intricate production and close-mic’d yet oddly distant vocals, elements which don’t come across particularly well in such a vast and picturesque arena: an early Me And Jane Doe fails to rouse the crowd beyond polite handclaps, while Jamais is a fairly inconsequential Gallic shrug of a song. For large parts of the show, it is only her undeniable film-star charisma and gracious stage manner that prevent the refrain from recent single Memoir (“I might as well be anyone at all”) from becoming all too real.
Tonight, she is accompanied by New Zealand-born musician Connan Mockasin and his band, clad in all white. Mockasin seems like a lovely chap – despite an truly unfortunate resemblance to TV’s Keith Lemon – but the two songs on which he takes the lead (one featuring his co-star on drums) are meandering and over-long. The extended guitar jams and bleary chord progressions may work wonders in an intimate club setting, but here they simply drift over the audience’s heads into the sky above.
The easy-going set certainly has a lot going for it, most notably a funky take on Ouvertures Eclair from Gainsbourg’s Charlotte Forever album (produced by her father when she was just 15), and a faithful, well-judged singalong through David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes. But while recent Noah & The Whale collaboration Got To Let Go makes for a touching duet between the two headliners, it is enough to send even the bands guitarist slumping to the floor in mock apathy, before a spirited Heaven Can Wait perks up the crowds interest again.
The evening opens with Terrible Angels and ends with Paradisco, two tracks from the recent Stage Whisper mini-album which have clearly been written with the stage in mind. The M83-indebted euphoria of the latter is the undoubted high point of the evening, with the subdued crowd finally getting to strut their stuff before heading home. It is a promising sign of things to come from Ms Gainsbourg, wrapping up a professional but sedate show which ultimately fails to set the pulse racing.
Photos: Adam Imiolo