The lovely, talented Charlotte Gainsbourg dropped by Seattle’s Crocodile Café Wednesday night, only a few shows into her first U.S. tour. Who knew? The French singer-actress has two solid albums under her belt – three if you count the record papa, Serge, wrote for her when she was a pre-teen. But until now, American fans have only been able to witness her talent on the big screen, in movies like “Jane Eyre,” “The Science of Sleep” and, more recently, “Anti-Christ.”
So first tour jitters explained the waifish performer’s coy demeanor at the Croc (which actually made her seem more pensive and mysterious.) Her rockin’, tight band galvanized the packed house, with Amir Yaghmai on guitar and strings, Eric Gardner on drums, Bram Inscore on Bass, Nicole Morier on guitar and Brian LeBarton on keys and percussion. (They’re all Americans, I think. I met LeBarton after the show; he looked dapper in a tux as he told funny, stories about touring with Beck; something about trying to walk down to the Columbia River at the Gorge and nearly missing their set at Sasquatch one time. But I digress.)
Speaking of the Beckster, Gainsbourg’s set drew heavily from the Beck-penned “IRM,” which may well top my best albums of 2010 list. With the Beck, Gainsbourg has pursued a more eclectic sound, ranging from the driving frenzy of the title cut and the spunky electronica of “Greenwich Mean Time” (songs one and two Wednesday) to the laid back T. Rex vibe of “Dandelion.”
Some of the “IRM” material received radically different treatment in concert, most notably my favorite cut, the Jean-Paul Ferland remake “Le Chat du Café des Artistes.” A foreboding wall of sound really brings the recorded version to life, courtesy of Beck’s composer dad, David Campbell. And I wondered how the band might compensate live, sans strings. With samples, perhaps? But they went in a totally unexpected direction, actually, kicking the song off with gurgly synthesizer (think Ginuwine’s hit “Pony”) before switching back to the more familiar version, with Gainsbourg listlessly banging a snare drum as the number came to a close. Not sure how I felt about the beginning of that one, but the band sure finished strong.
Adding even more spice to the mix Wednesday were some killer covers, which included Gainsbourg’s breathy take on Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” (as recorded previously with Calexico) and, of course, a couple of daddy’s songs. Serge Gainsbourg’s slinky ‘70s cut “L’hôtel Particulier” brought some atmospheric funk to the mid-set. And the band took it back to the ‘60s and walked off with the happy, tropical vibe of “Couler Café.”