Beck, Beach House, Grizzly Bear, Zola Jesus, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lulu Gainsbourg, Mike Patton, Serge Gainsbourg

Serge Gainsbourg Tribute: Beck, Zola Jesus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Victoria Legrand and more,

Aug 29, 2011
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It’s deceptively easy to see the career of French musician Serge Gainsbourg as one continuous punchline. With his distinctive vocal style—a muttered sing-speech—parodied almost into oblivion since his rise to popularity in the 1960s, the inclusion of his music in film or television seems to automatically indicate the horny bachelor, the ill-conceived seduction, or (horror of horrors) hipsters aiming to embrace kitsch with both hands.

Last night at the Hollywood Bowl however, cool was the name of the game—as Beck, Zola Jesus, Victoria Legrand (of Beach House), Mike Patton, Ed Droste (of Grizzly Bear), The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Lulu Gainsbourg, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, sang, spoke and cooed their tributes to the late performer. Perhaps the cavalcade of parodies got one thing right—his sound is a bit seductive.

Kicking off the show was Lulu Gainsbourg, who—despite a burgeoning career in music—we were told had never performed on stage before. (Iconic venue, iconic material…no pressure, okay?) Despite clearly not having not inherited any of his father’s swagger, Gainsbourg acquitted himself nicely—proving that there are definite advantages to being French in a (nearly all) French language tribute.

Having honed his pipes with Faith No More, Mike Patton proved to be a welcome surprise, growling his way through two of Gainsbourg’s angriest cuts, “Requiem pour un Con,” and “Chanson De Prévert.”

For Zola Jesus (aka Nika Roza Danilova) it was a case of good news/bad news. Judging by her stilted rendition of  “Harley Davidson,” one could almost image the awkward conversation leading up to the show. (“Congratulations Ms. Danilova, you’ll be performing at the bowl…in French.”) While she eventually owned “La Javanalse,” her first song on stage was more akin to Chanson Francaise-style karaoke  (lyrics sheet in hand) than the truly uninhibited performances we’ve come to expect from her. 

Victoria Legrand seemed born to the role of French torch singer, slinking onto stage in a pink blouse and black bowtie. Miles away from her day job as keyboardist/vocalist for Beach House, Legrand, exuded a calm, mysterious persona throughout solo “Initials B.B.” and “Le Chanson de Slogan”—a duet with Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste. (Droste apparently was the night’s big winner; as he went on to perform the evening’s only English song, “I Came Here to Say.”)

Truly inspired were Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl—who perform together as The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. A couple onstage and off (not unlike Gainsbourg and one-time amour Jane Birkin), the two oozed chemistry—aided by superhero costumes (“I’m Captain Lawnmower!” Lennon announced cheerfully), and silly banter. (“I never thought I’d talk over an orchestra. Maybe one day I’ll sing over an orchestra.”). Their take on so silly/cute tunes “Comic Strip” and “Bonnie & Clyde” were perhaps among the most spot-on of the evening. The duo also proved they could do sexy, with Vatican-shunned song, “Je T'aime, Moi non Plus.” (“I’m going to do my best to sing, well, grunt,” said Lennon, helpfully.)

No longer a loser, Beck—clad in a tux and jaunty hat—covered what was perhaps the most unexpected material of the evening, Gainsbourg-penned tunes for Gallic teen-pop star, France Gall. Breezing his way though “Nefertiti,” “Teenie Weenie Boppie” (pausing to laugh at the title), and “Les Sucettes,” his voice didn’t match the more powerful performers, but his slacker-gone-good stage presence continues to above reproach.

While the string of Gainsbourg hits were entertaining, it was wildly acknowledged that the audience wasn’t there for a medley, but rather, a Melody. The evening concluded with a centerpiece performance of Gainsbourg’s seminal 1971-concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson—directed by Gainsbourg collaborator/co-writer, Jean Claude Vannier in his first ever Hollywood Bowl performance. A moody-strings driven album containing the kind of descriptions that would make Nabokov blush, the album had been noted as a major influence to every artist on stage. It was a clear that all viewed the presence of Vannier as a major honor.

The performers traded off for each of the seven album cuts, opening with perhaps the most unlikely of them all—Joseph Gordon-Levitt. While not a musician, Levitt’s speaking voice and command of the French language, proved to be too much for many female audience members—whose only way to release the steam necessary to avoid explosion was to scream as loudly as possible!

The other performs attacked the material with a likewise competence—Muhl playing the coquette of “Valse de Melody,” Beck shrugging off “Ah! Melody” with an understated charm, and Zola Jesus being given the thankless job of executing the shrieks, giggles, and howls of “En Melody.” (Which she did admirably—throwing in a few Jane Birkin dance moves for good measure.)

The album performance closed as it opened, with Levitt on vocals, Legrand as Melody, and the audience on shrieks and cheers. The enthusiastic response only grew as the ensemble took their final bows. More than a night of mere covers, each artist truly made the material his/her own. The result was nothing short of magical. 

Set List:

 

1. L'eau à la Bouche

2. Couleur Cafe

3. La Noyee

4. Requiem pour un Con

5. Chanson De Prévert

6. Danger

7. La Horse

8. Harley Davidson

9. Le Poinçonneur des Lilas

10. La Javanalse

11. Black Trombone

12. La Décadanse

13. Initals B.B.

14. La Chanson de Slogan

15. I Came Here to Say

16. Cannibas

17. Comic Strip

18. L’home a Tete de Chou

19. Bonnie & Clyde

20. Je T'aime, Moi non Plus

21. Ford Mustang

22. Cha Cha Cha du Loup

23. Sea, Sex, and Sun

24. Nefertiti

25. Teenie Weenie Boppie

26. Les Sucettes

27. Melody

28. Ballade de Melody Nelson

29. Vase de Melody

30 Ah! Melody

31. L’Hotel Particulier

32. En Melody

33. Cargo Culte

 

(www.beck.com)

(www.beachhousebaltimore.com)

(www.zolajesus.com)

(www.grizzly-bear.net)

(www.thegoastt.com)

(www.ipecac.com)

(www.hollywoodbowl.com)

 




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Mike
April 2nd 2012
7:35am

I have not heard a record label who signed an artist that was as unique as Serge Gainsborough. His voice was truly unique and his style was seductive. Glad that so many celebrities today know of him and are willing to pay tribute to him in their own ways.