Aussie Mick Harvey is a rabid fan of the beloved Serge Gainsbourg (1928 – 1991) and yet despite the passion, this performance of 26 or so of Serge’s greatest and most French classics lacks something.
Performing with a four-man backing-band and other on-and-off contributors (as he said, there were times that there were more women onstage than men), former Bad Seed Mick seems a little off to start with, but he grows more at ease and eventually seems to be really enjoying himself, even if he isn’t in any way as intoxicated as Serge.
With almost no introduction or explanation, the band launches into a series of tunes, mostly translated from the French (although Mick can obviously speak that language), and after Requiem, The Ticket Puncher and more, the other voices start contributing. And we are glad to see them too, as initially Mick’s singing seemes breathless, and even his occasional work on the bongos is at times iffy.
Everything picks up when guitarist/singer Xanthe Waite, instrumentalist/singer Sophia Brous and a quartet of violinists take their positions and get into Sex Shop, the titular song and a few more offerings, even if the strings are drowned out at first. New York USA is a little sloppy, but the wonderfully Serge-esque Coffee Colour was very cool indeed.
Gainsbourg’s dark humour is well on display (who else could have written a ditty called, in English, Deadly Tedium?), and Xanthe turns in probably the best, quietest and subtlest piece of the night: the stripped-back Overseas Telegram, which proves quite unlike Jane Birkin’s treacly version. And the audience, it must be said, are mostly old enough to remember what exactly a telegram was.
The expected encore showcases another four songs, including the very un-PC All Day Suckers (which is about exactly what you think it is) and, finally, I Envisage, which is naturally extended with some ace guitar licks from Xanthe.
All in all, the performance is something of a mixed bag, and perhaps we could have expected more. Maybe if we’d all been just a tad more intoxicated, mes amis?
Intoxicated Man was performedat Elder Hall on Thursday, March 14