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Enchanting Music on a Sunday Night

April 26th, 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Webster Hall – April 25, 2010

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Charlotte Gainsbourg’s sold-out show at Webster Hall was the final date of the French actress and singer’s first-ever U.S. tour—in support of her latest album, IRM. Gainsbourg opened the show with the album’s title track, a skittish beat giving way to lyrics that reflect upon her experiences inside an IRM (the French translation of an MRI machine) after a serious head injury in 2007. This near-death experience became the focus of the album, and yet with such dark subject matter, the songs are interesting, intricate and largely upbeat, in part thanks to the disc’s producer, Beck, imparting his subtle imprint.

Gainsbourg and her band translated the songs with energy and precision, enhancing numbers like the cheerful “Heaven Can Wait” and the dramatic “La Collectionneuse” with lilting violin, and using the flutter of quick hand claps to punctuate “Greenwich Mean Time.” Gainsbourg’s unique vocal style and range were as equally compelling at a delicate near whisper during “In the End” as her more assertive, smooth delivery on songs like “The Operation.”

After performing an understated cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” (featured on the soundtrack of I’m Not There, in which Gainsbourg also starred), she told us of her one-time trepidation about covering the music of her father, Serge. Luckily for us, Gainsbourg had a change of heart, and we were treated to “L’Hôtel Particulier” from his iconic album, Histoire de Melody Nelson, and to close out the show, a spirited rendition of “Couleur Café” that had the crowd singing along. Though Gainsbourg’s previous hesitation to delve into her father’s material is understandable, the covers were a nice reminder of the musical roots that helped foster her evolution into the artist who had easily won us over with her own unique style. —Alena Kastin