Jane Birkin at The National Concert Hall | Review
Twenty years after the death of musician, raconteur, agent provocateur and musical chameleon Serge Gainsbourg, his greatest muse has taken a new approach to the songs she has spent a lifetime interpreting. Subtitled ‘Jane Birkin sings Serge Gainsbourg via Japan’ this celebration of Gainsbourg’s work sees Birkin share the stage with four Japanese musicians she played with in the country in the aftermath of the tsunami. The National Concert Hall plays host to the Dublin jaunt of the tour, and, while not a sell-out, a respectable and reverential crowd has turned out to hear the great man’s songs delivered by the inimitable singer.
The band walk out in darkness, the drummer lighting up and starting the triphop beat of Requiem pour un com as Birkin sits at the piano and begins to sing. Ambling coolly across the stage, hand almost perpetually in pocket for the night, the band joins in as she smiles her way through a breezy Tombée des neus. The ever-so-delicate piano and violin intro of Marilou sous la neige then elicits a spontaneous applause from the crowd as starlight dots the backdrop.
Birkin speaks often of Gainsbourg between numbers, of the beauty of the lyrics he wrote for her and the high esteem he is held in as an artist, a reputation she has gone to great lengths to uphold. In one of many funny asides she tells of being described as Gainsbourg’s “sex partner” in the local press. At the end of Amours des feintes, written before he died, the singer blows a kiss skywards and the band launch into Le couteau dans le Play. Birkin becomes more animated, running around the stage to sing directly to each of her musicians.
A lovely take on Ballade de JJ follows, with Birkin sitting on the edge of the stage. Barriers are broken down between band and audience in an effortless manner as the gig continues. During an infectious and playful Comic Strip the violinist takes over on backing vocals, yelping and squealing her way along the front row…now we’re cookin’. Birkin herself abandons the stage at one point to come in to the crowd, giving one or two fellas in the middle row the thrill of a lifetime, cooing her way along as people shuffle out of her way.
The lighting is a subtle, commendable addition to proceedings throughout, whether emulating lightening during Ces petits riens with its military snare and dramatic chord slashes, or the wonderful stage decoration that makes itself known midway through the set. Like a child’s mobile it spins between the violinist and trumpet player, simultaneously casting shards of light from its metallic skeleton, and erratic dancing shadows on the backdrop.
“If you’re Irish thank you for coming out of curiosity, to listen to a Japanese band and an English woman playing French songs” she beams to the audience at one point. There’s no fear however, of anyone in this Franco-Hibernian crowd being here for any other reason other than Gainsbourg and Birkin. She introduces her peerless band, each taking a solo; “This dear boy is just a child” she says of the young trumpet player to general mirth in the venue, before he renders this description irrelevant with a lilting solo.
Fuir le Bonheur holds everyone transfixed towards the set’s end, and a standing ovation is ably earned by all on stage. An encore ensues, Birkin kneeling stagefront for a barebones L’Aquoiboniste, just her and a plucked violin, until the musicians slowly build up behind her. We go out on a stomper with La Gadoue, a clap-along calypso inflected number that rounds off a first-rate performance. The band shone, Birkin charmed, and her asides on Gainsbourg were genuinely touching moments in a fine testament to a rich and varied career – both Gainsbourg’s and that of his muse.