segunda-feira, maio 01, 2006

Initials S.G? A whole lotta B.S.

I presume that without the mighty Serge, there would also be filles sourires, yet not filles sourires that also sing. There are less filles sourires in the real day-to-day life in France than you might have hoped for. The perfect fille happens to sit in the train to Bourges, opposite of us. She looks nothing less like the very sister of Benjamin Biolay, yet is not Coraline Clement, who, I am told, is his very own sister. Does the girl in the train leave in the city of Vierzon, to change for Bourges, to witness the His initials S.G. event?
No, she does not. She stays in the train, will pass Bourges, having no idea of what is going on there, unaware of the festival, unaware of His initials S.G., unaware of the filles sourires that will appear on the event. She moves on, to spend her weekend with grandpa and grandmother, in the middle of nowhere, French countryside, being slightly bored, enjoying the sun though, and the novel she is reading, waiting for things to come, if times, she might even sing and whizzle a bit.
The filles that make their appearance on the festival are Keren Ann, Anna Karina and the unannounced Héléna Noguéra. Others that are to pay tribute during the evening are Rodolphe Burger, Mick Harvey, (Phillipe) Katerine, Miossec and Alain Chamfort. It’s a very promising list, for what looks to become a very special evening indeed. The event is replaced to the Palais d’Auron, because there’s more interest than the original 900 seats of the initial location. The Palais d’Auron is the kind of multifunctional city sportshall that can host about everything - kickbox events, fleamarkets, metal concerts...but maybe not an event like this, that is best served with a sense of intimity, we come to think after having found our seats.
The distance between the stage and the audience is a wide gap. There’s a band on stage, in the dark. Deep basstones rumble trough the hall, as to announce the beginning of the concert. The enormous lightshow – think of Lights like God Almighty - kicks off, we see a singer/guitarist (electric, that is), a bassplayer, a drummer, a guy playing synths and two 'DJ’s' that are placed behind a table of electronic devices – no record players. The band plays L’homme a tête de chou; one of the most personal songs of Gainsbourg, if not his very own constitution. So, it is a bit strange to see this singer start the concert by declaring “Je suis l’homme a tête de chou” – pretty much setting himself apart from all the others that are to be Serge this evening. Why don’t we know who he, or this band, is? Because there is nothing announced. Can the French girl next to me tell me? No, she cannot. “Zis is about Gainsbourg, ze rest is wind” , she snaps. Nobody seems to be sure of what we are witnessing, yet we will know soon.
The guy singing (deep dark voice, very good) and playing guitar (fabulous, zero misstakes, all in control) happens to be Rodolphe Burger, a well-respected guitarist in France. And Rodolphe has formed a band for this evening, that will accompany all of the other musicians. Moreover: all of the artists mentioned are to make a brief appearance, doing one up to three songs, and all the rest of tonights precious time is for Rodolphe and his band. They play very ambitious versions of Serge’s music –especially not well-known songs. They prove that you can play Serge in the cut-up beat version, in the psychedelic guitar mode, with a bit of industrial grind – all of it is proven. But with all of it embedded in this muscular powerrock sound, little of the original joy and lightness in the songs of Serge is left. So that’s the concept of the evening, which has been mentioned nowhere beforehand, and leaves the audience puzzling about their 35 Euros they paid to get in.
Héléna Noguéra does Ce mortel ennui: a duet with a man that remains inconnu. My very own fille sourire for life, is all too right when she mentiones: "A bald man doing Serge, that’s just ridiculous." More and more, we get the feeling of witnessing a slick tv entertainment show.
Anna Karina, the oldest, but very well preserved fille this evening, does two songs, the last one being Sous le soleil exactement. It’s ok, but hindered by overacting and again, this feeling that you’re looking at TV Variety instead of a live show – like it never gets for real.
Keren-Ann: one song, Sorry Angel, that leaves us longing for more. Héléna Noguéra comes back to do a duet with Alain Chamfort. They perform La Décadanse together, but the voice of Helena cannot level with the mighty original. And Chamfort hesitates to give her the treatment Serge gave Jane in the version filmed for tv long ago – which is a pity, but understandible.
So far for the filles sourires. They all get back on stage for the encore Les papillions noirs, which in every respect sounds like Let there be rock. And with the audience screaming for a second encore, we get the whole song once more –with the guitars turned up even louder and all of that...a waste.

In terms of tonights male singers, Alain Chamfort is the most impressive one, staying in touch with the subtleties of the songs of Serge. Miossec is not there at all, "for health reasons". Phillipe Katerine is not there at all, without any reason being given. Daniel Darc is there, not announced, but could have stayed home: his harmonica-driven, speedrock version of Juif et dieu, is nothing but pathetic. Which leaves Mick Harvey, the one to look really forward to. He is there with his acoustic guitar, also accompanied by the band of Burger. Oddly enough, Harvey, the man that has done the most outstanding versions of the Gainsbourg songs in English, tonight is performing them (for the biggest part) in the orginal French language, which is kind of puzzling...But even more puzzling is that the guitar of Harvey is just not working. And that it cannot be fixed. So instead of enjoying Bonnie and Clyde and Chatterton, we see him struggling with a guitar that just does not work. And not even that: we also see how he is not given the opportunity to fix it, as the show needs to go on, apparantly. This is too bad. And moreover, it is uneccesary: after the show is finished, we come to discover that “His initials S.G.” have not lasted three hours, as scheduled, but not even two.
It could have been really nice. It was not. Even regional newspaper Le Berry, one of the main sponsors of the festival, and very supportive of all the events on Le Printemps de Bourges is without pity in their review. "Une flopée d’artistes avec Rudolph Burger pour un flop, they’re headlining. Little needs to be added to that. His initials S.G. was a poor, pityful happening. (JAN HIDDINK)