The Initials S.G
There was only one Serge Gainsbourg and there will never be another one like him.
Unfortunately live concert footage of Serge Gainsbourg is a rare thing, even in this YouTube age, that we live in (not counting the numerous TV appearances, floating around on the internet) and maybe that’s because rarely did he play live.
But then, one night somewhere in the mid-eighties, the man with the sharp witted tongue of the French word, crawled out of the dark surroundings of his museum-like home at 5 bis Rue de Verneuil, and onto stage at Casino de Paris – himself and band dressed in blue shirts and blue jeans – bringing his nicotine drenched baritone whispers to the masses.
This was at a time in his life, when years of decadence from a life in the fast lane had slowly begun to take it’s toll on the living legend, and one of France’s most celebrated artists.
Although footage of this show reveals the stature of a man looking tired beyond his years, he delivers more charisma in a single heartbeat, than most artists today could ever dream of.
In a cloudy haze of Gitanes smoke he greets the crowd with funky opener ‘Love On The Beat’, from his latest album of the same title.
The funkyness doesn’t stop here, the whole show is a more funky affair in contrast to his earlier works and performances, back when fortune and fame was still only a fresh ringing in his ears.
Not that it matters.
Serge delivers in style, he always did. This is after all the man who insisted upon being wrapped in his own highly fashionable, extremely valuable Hermès blanket before being taken to hospital, after suffering a heart attack at the relatively young age of 45.
It’s all sounding good, the saxophone driven ‘My Lady Heroine’, along with classics songs such as ‘The Initials B.B’ are performed in the most delicate way, with a tender male choir replacing the one of female kind, originally heard on the album versions.
His songs come across very laid back and a great part of them, like the sky gazing ‘Sorry Angel’, is gently delivered here, beautifully in his trademark storytelling voice.
It’s sexy, humouristic and slick and the audience loves it, but then again, who wouldn’t.
Gainsbourg’s compositions would often borrow melody-lines and hooks from classic composers such as Chopin, whose ‘Étude Op. 10, No. 3’ leads melody line to one of Gainsbourg’s most notorious songs to date, the controversial ‘Lemon Incest’, which is to be found on the track list to this album, but sadly cut short after a mere 36 seconds.
In between songs he approaches the audience, telling little stories, mumbling or making weird noises. It’s all very lovely, and I just wish that I spoke the language.
Other well-known songs like ‘Harley Davidson’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, remind us that Serge sometimes had an almost Warholesque take on his music, elevating song craft to the level of pop art.
Serge Gainsbourg live at Casino de Paris is a wonderful reunion with one of the true greats. A brutal honest artiste, who was always true to himself and his art.
The live audio is available for the first time as a limited edition deluxe 2CD/DVD set with a 28-page book, plus a 3-disc heavyweight vinyl set, on October 30th.
Words: Anders Knudsen