Thursday, June 24

Charlotte Gainsbourg @ Shepherds Bush Empire

. Thursday, June 24

Thin white strips of light provide the back drop for Charlotte Gainsbourg as she takes to the stage for this rare UK live show, part of an even rarer European tour. Between the strips are monitors, intermittently projecting scanned images of the human skull and brain, a timely reminder of what the waif-like figure standing centre stage has been through to reach this point.

Charlotte Gainsbourg has had a varied career, performing as both an actress in films such as Jayne Eyre and 21 Grams as well as recording three albums, the most recent of which has seen her working with Californian genre-melder Beck. It is that album, the deftly sublime 'IRM' that tonight's show leans most heavily on tonight.

Released earlier this year, 'IRM' tells the tale of Gainsbourg's brush with death (IRM being the French acronym for MRI) following her recovery from a brain haemorrhage in 2007. Whilst this provides a strong narrative spine for tonight's show, it is by no means a morbid exploration of deathly near misses, rather more a sultry and tempered celebration of life. This much is clear as Gainsbourg and her band of hired hands rattle through IRM's greatest moments such as 'Time Of The Assassins' and 'In The End' to a warm and appreciative audience.

Working with Beck sits well with Gainsbourg and the results of his work are made audible by the introduction of older material from the 2006 album '5:55'. These older songs are by no means weak but they sit very comfortable in the seat of what you'd expect a beautiful French actress and singer to be performing. Breathy and longing, they border on parody but ultimately rest on being a sort of artsy post-coital soundtrack. Either way, the older material certainly signals a slump in tonight's proceedings.

Much of 'IRM' maintains a similar aesthetic but by mixing in some musical ingénue and interesting electronic sounds elevates proceedings to something much more engaging. 'Trick Pony' is a dark, garage rock stomp, all tied up tight and ready to burst out at any minute whilst 'Greenwich Mean Time' is a playful, off-kilter alternative to the brooding waltz of 'Vanities'. Together these songs weave into one another to create a blanket of cool, airy angst.

“Thank you ever so much for coming” says Charlotte in her cut glass English accent (though she does often forget to speak English, chatting to her band in their native French). “I feel very lucky to have worked with people such as Beck and Air, however I also have a wonderful repertoire to run through: that of my Father's”. A heavy and intense rendition of Serge Gainsbourg's 'Sorry Angel' is then followed by a cover of Bob Dylan's 'Just Like A Woman'.

Whilst Charlotte Gainsbourg might be indebted to her past and her family (her Mother, Jane Birkin is clamoured over in the foyer of the venue) but at this juncture in her career Gainsbourg shines brightest as a musician. 'IRM' is destined to become one of the years best albums and as the brilliant 'Heaven Can Wait' chimes to a finish you can only hope her fruitful working relationship with Beck continues.

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