"Set the night on fuckin' fire, Charlotte!" hollered a fan at Charlotte Gainsbourg's first live performance ever Tuesday night at Brooklyn's Bell House. The French pop princess did just that, delicately, sensuously, using her five-piece band as the lighter fluid. Not bad for a rookie.
The 60-minute set was a testament to the power of setting the mood. A blood red velvet curtain provided the onstage backdrop, as soft blue lights illuminated the 38-year-old songstress, who spent the bulk of the show perched on a stool, like an aspiring poet at an open mic night.
The singer/actress' power is in the nuance of her mannerisms, vocals, and delivery. On "Time of the Assassins," a stand-out from her new album, IRM (out Jan. 26), she breathily sang as her band laid violin, floating keyboard fills, and acoustic guitar in a perfect mix. Dressed in a slim-cut denim jacket, she flipped her tangled brown hair and scanned the room with wide eyes.
Requests from the crowd for more volume were ignored. And for good reason: Gainsbourg is no Etta James; her restraint lends itself to the mystery and seductive nature of her music. These traits were in fine form as she morphed Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" into a lover's secret, whispering the tale of a relationship's shortcomings to the rapt crowd, which included Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne.
Later, Gainsbourg stopped to thank Beck, "who wrote and produced my new album.... This next song reminds me of him." Over acoustic guitar and layers of percussion -- bongos, maracas, and a tambourine -- she sang about the power of the senses ("Breathe out, come alive / ?Give me a reason to feel") in one of the night's most moving moments.
The band -- which was spot-on all night -- turned up the power and volume on "The Songs That We Sing," an orchestral number from 2006's 5:55, and a cover of her dad Serge Gainsbourg's "Sorry Angel," which she talk-sang hot and heavy in French.
On "Trick Pony 1," an IRM cut with screeching electric guitar and distorted bass, Gainsbourg and her band were at their toughest.
"Thanks for being here at my first show," she said before her final number, IRM's "Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes," smiling nervously and receiving a bouquet of flowers from the crowd. "I'll remember this." And so will we.
Charlotte Gainsbourg's set list:
"Greenwich Mean Time"
"Me and Jane Doe"
"In the End"
"Time of the Assassins"
"Just Like a Woman" (Bob Dylan cover)
"Songs We Sing"
"Looking Glass Blues"
"The Songs That We Sing"
"Trick Pony 1"
"Heaven Can Wait"
"Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes"