LIVE: Charlotte Gainsbourg @ 02 Shepherd's Bush Empire
After a career spent building a reputation as one of France's most highly regarded stage and screen actresses, Charlotte Gainsbourg seemed to deliberately shun any foray into her father's domain.And so, when appraising Charlotte Gainsbourg as a live act, one must first consider a character so famously self conscious and reserved that she had to practically be browbeaten by Serge superfans Air, Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon into stepping out from under his shadow - or is that into it? - and required her head obscuring by a blanket to facilitate the recording of her adult debut, 2006's '5:55', released a full 20 years after the Serge-supervised 'Charlotte Forever'.
With a second LP, Charlotte's collaboration with Beck, 'IRM' (French for 'MRI' - the diagnostic device employed after her near-fatal waterskiing accident) recently released and ready to promote, this may lead some to ponder how Charlotte would cope with a capacity crowd for this, her first ever London show and indeed first ever tour as a singer.
Any worries were abated as Charlotte bounded straight into an energetic, rhythmic rendition of 'IRM's title track, with a steady, speedy tempo that would sustain for the remainder of the night, the conflicting styles of the swooning, somnambulant and stringladen '5:55' and the jagged electronics and guitar pop of 'IRM' reconciled into a cohesive electro-pop whole. Frequently backlit, the wiry Gainsbourg let her distinctive silhouette do most of the work, all hair, cheekbones and 'Madonna arms' - as bony as her mother, as beaky as her father. Alternatively ugly or beautiful, like a lenticular 'blinking Jesus' poster, depending on the angle she's viewed from.
Slowing briefly for a Cowboy Junkies/Nico-esque interpretation of Dylan's 'Just Like a Woman', Charlotte then paused to thank her recent collaborators, before stating how lucky she was to have access to that most rich repetoire of all - her father's. At which point Herbie Flower's famed bassline lead into a blistering interpretation of 'L'Hôtel Particulier' from Papa Gainsbourg's most celebrated LP 'Histoire de Melody Nelson'.
Charlotte's voice - much like her mother's - is a small, but expressive thing that held up remarkably well, helped by a well chosen set list and super-tight back up from a well-drilled session band. A cold-hearted soul could perhaps suggest that technically she can't sing or is too reliant on collaborators to realise her musical aims, but these facts certainly never hindered her father.
Charlotte seemed genuinely energised by the enthusiastic response from the French ex-pat and hipster crowd, (inspiring an occasional geographic and linguistic confusion, "Je voudrais... Fuck, I keep forgetting!") in somewhat stark contrast to the hilarious half hour spent by her support, Canadian pianist Gonzales (Feist collaborator and 'The Hands of Gainsbourg' in Joann Sfar's recent biopic) - who employed every technique available to encourage a typically unappreciative London audience to, in his words, "Shut the fuck up!"
The interval was significant for a form of hipster Mexican wave as the crowd rippled to rubber neck a certain gangly, bearded, bespectacled Yorkshireman secluded within a high balcony. Would there be a Cocker/Gainsbourg duet on the cards? (Answer: no.)
The encore brought '5:55's lead single, 'Songs That We Sing', and a second dip into her father's back catalogue with a joyful, South African township-style rendition of 'Couleur Café' providing a perfect end to the evening.