Camille’s wonderfully quirky world shines through at Hackney Empire – Live Review of French singer Camille at Hackney Empire, London UK, November 3rd 2011

Posted: December 5, 2011 in Alternative Music, Avant-Garde, Pop, Popular Music
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Camille, Live Review from The Hackney Empire, London UK, November 3rd 2011

 

Camille delivers another humorous avant-gard performance with her band - Hackney Empire, November 3rd 2011

French singerCamille delivers another humourous avant-garde performance with her band, Novemeber 3rd 2011

 

The Hackney Empire is a beautiful old Victorian music hall theatre in north east London that is more used to playing host to other performing arts such as musicals, comedy, opera and plays. It only occasionally gets used for concerts, which explains why I have not been there previously to cover a music performance. 

Camille Dalrais is a French artist that won the BBC 3 world music awards in 2007 and whose music can be said to have evolved into different styles and incarnations. She has progressed in the last decade from collaborations with the bossa nova stylings of the group Nouvelle Vague to performing concept works in the form of material from the album Le Fils, whose songs are themed around the note of C and its scales, chords. Music Hole the 3rd album, is one giant experiment with sound.

Camille could therefore be described as avant-garde but yet in live performance does not take herself too seriously. Audience interaction and participation is as much a feature of her shows as her considerable musicianship and vocal ability. But do not expect a bog standard pop concert because that is never going to happen. This was certainly true of the show at Hackney Empire.

Opening with “Aujord’hui”,  a almost breathless spoken piece about the first moments of childbirth, she centre stage turning on the spot in the middle of a beige linen cloth with lamp in the middle. The lamp, in fact, hanging by a cord in the middle of the stage and by a pulley also visible stage left, proved to be a constant and effective prop and served as a lighting effect. A simple idea but it worked. Several times it was swung back and forth across the stage like a pendulum and this was highly effective against the darkened stage during the haunting rendition of “Le Berger” (The Shepherd).

 

Haunting Lightting Effects were one of the feature of  Camille's performance at Hackney Empire, London, UK , November 3rd 2011

Haunting Lighting Effects were a main feature of Camille's performance at Hackney Empire, London, UK, Novemebr 3rd 2011

 

There were many moments of humour: “Mars is no fun” – a song in English was indeed very fun, offering a surreal imaging of what it would be like as an ordinary person going about  in everyday situations living on that red planet. It must the first I have heard anyone express in a song a desire to go back to social housing and  “wander all afternoon in the shopping mall of Milton Keynes”. (For those who do not know,  Milton Keynes is a formerly much maligned new style UK town, built on an American type grid system).

Bubble Lady saw Camille sitting down on the stage opposite one of her band making fish popping and bubbly noises. “Ilo Veyou”, the title track of the new album, produced mocking irony and “La France” singly in an exaggerated mixed style of Edith Piaf  meets 19th century operetta plainly just mocked. Camille introduced this number by having a joke with French members of the audience saying that the “Rosbifs” would not understand. Lucky then, I speak French. 

The show was not all about humour and was punctuated by several melancholic songs, “She was” and “Le banquet” being notable amongst them.

For the finale to the pre-encore she showed herself at vocally dextrous best on “Tout dit” . The repetition of this title ran as a rhythmic beat all the way through this piece but Camille did not pause for breath between title and verse.

Camille entreated all the audience to stand during the 20 minute long encore section and everyone (at least downstairs) duly obliged. This signalled some crowd favourites from 2nd studio album “Le Fils” .  “Ta Doleur” gave us all the opportunity to do a gentle jazz swing and “Au Port” was also played.  Probably the most surreal and hilarious moments came when Camille got the audience to make woofing and meowing noises during “Cats and Dogs” and then got everyone to repetitively sound off the consonants of the alphabet.

 

Camille gets intimate with the audience and band at Hackney Empire, London UK, November 3rd 2011

Camille gets intimate with the audience and band at Hackney Empire, London, UK November 3rd 2011

All in all, though, this was an art house gig meets cabaret with a dash of music hall thrown for good measure. Last time I saw Camille at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October 2006, she had the crowd on the ground level pull a kind of net tissue  over themselves. I, for one, cannot wait to see what she produces for her next theme. Her performance was artistic and humorous in equal measure and her sonic gymnastics were frankly amazing. It’s no wonder she has built up a considerable cult following in the UK.

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