Published Dec 08, 2011How's this for musical multiculturalism? An English singer performing the songs of a French musical genius in Canada, accompanied by a Japanese band. The results, in any language, were delightful.
Jane Birkin, of course, can rightfully be called French, given her mastery of the language and her reputation as the long-standing lover and muse of the late, great Serge Gainsbourg. This current world tour is dedicated to the Serge songbook and the fact that this year is the 20th anniversary of his death.
This is also 40 years on from the release of Melody Nelson, a Gainsbourg album now considered a masterpiece, but which, Birkin told the audience (in one of the rare times she spoke English, not French) "was a complete flop" on its release. Her version of the title track was one of many highlights of the night, as was her take on the classic "Ballade de Johnny Jane."
Birkin did full justice to songs stretching as far back as 1961 and up to the last song Gainsbourg ever wrote for her, "Amour Des Feintes." Birkin's voice may not have the gravitas of a peer like Marianne Faithfull or the power of a Ute Lemper, but it is a warm and supple instrument. She convincingly tackled songs featuring jazz, cabaret, Dixieland and even reggae stylings, as well as the French chanson pop style that is her trademark.
Birkin was quick to praise her band, and justifiably so. Comprising drums, piano, violin and horns (Takuma Yakamoto was equally adept on trombone and trumpet), the quartet's musical versatility was a key ingredient in the show's success.
A week away from her 65th birthday, Birkin still radiates a warm sensuality. Dressed in classic white shirt and tailored black pants, she was the picture of casual elegance. An acclaimed actress, she has a natural theatricality onstage, whether leaning against the piano or strolling out into the audience for a song. Her set was generously long, and, if anything, she actually got better as it progressed. One poetic ballad near the end featured muted trumpet and violin, to lovely effect. Judging by the multiple standing ovations she received, no one left disappointed.