Traversing multiple genres since her debut aged fifteen, Charlotte Gainsbourg recently meandered onto a sonic plane that sits equidistant on the spectrum between sultry electro-disco and playground nursery rhymes. We went to see the singer perform at KOKO, London on 11th December 2018.
An odd amalgam at first glance, yet 2017’s Rest was Charlotte Gainsbourg’s most widely praised collections of songs in her cultivated career, largely due to her combating personal grief on the first of her five albums she’s contributed to lyrically.
Despite an eager crowd clambering over the staircases for a vantage point of the stage, however, Gainsbourg’s initial reaction to the sold-out occasion was somewhat frosty. Leading with ‘Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses’ and ‘Lying With You’, the former child-prodigy failed to trigger much more than a tepid response – attested to nerves, perhaps, yet more likely a tentative approach to performing songs so fraught with raw emotion. Momentum gathered throughout disco-drenched ‘Sylvia Says’, prompting shoulder shimmying befitting of the tubular strobe lighting that engulfed the British/French musician. The artist’s macabre alliance with darkness and despair was by no means apparent, as the former theatre paradoxically became reminiscent of a flamboyant discothèque.
“sparking rapturous cheers with the muted-bass line intro to ‘Deadly Valentine’, the crunchy, muscly arpeggios ebbed and flowed without threatening to overshadow the alluring Gainsbourg’s hushed, restrained vocals.”
From here on, the bulk of the set drew predominantly from last year’s album, albeit peppered with a couple of new tracks brushed with the same disco glaze largely attributed to Ed Banger Records-affiliated producer, Sebastian, Gainsbourg evidently revels in the freedom her live-band afford her; sparking rapturous cheers with the muted-bass line intro to ‘Deadly Valentine’, the crunchy, muscly arpeggios ebbed and flowed without threatening to overshadow the alluring Gainsbourg’s hushed, restrained vocals. Plagued by this issue on previous occasions, the sound-tech duly earned his wedge.
In a stark tonal shift, the stage lights lowered altering the intimacy as she took to the piano, wryly acknowledging “you may’ve noticed, I’m somewhat attached to my childhood” – a clear reference to her penchant for bastardised lullabies and deep-rooted affection for nostalgia. Yet, a welcomed tender moment saw Gainsbourg address the five-year anniversary of her half-sister’s death, performing ‘Kate’ and ‘Charlotte For Ever’ back-to-back in tribute. Her vulnerability in sharing this tragedy was warmly felt and duly applauded. Regrettably, a stint of dull piano-based self-indulgence (including an ill-advised cover of Kanye’s ‘Runaway’. You could sense the collective cringe) supplanted her touching memorial before departing, having awarded congratulations to her supporting instrumentalists.
Rectifying the gloomy climax, Gainsbourg et al returned to perform latest single ‘Such A Remarkable Day’ as the encore; the delectable combination of flickering, monochrome illuminations and infectious harpsichord provided a glowing conclusion. Reserved, at times retiring, the London-born artist’s gratifying performance was unquestionably remedial.
Photo Credit: Simon Isabelle/SIPA