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Jane Birkin - Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonic - Live At The Beacon Theater, New York City, March 6th, 2020.

    Ian Jane

  • Jane Birkin - Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonic - Live At The Beacon Theater, New York City, March 6th, 2020

    On the evening of Friday, March 6th at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, New Yorkers were treated to a live performance of Jane Birkin's Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonic, which is, quite literally, the late Serge Gainsbourg's muse and collaborator performing a selection of songs from their collective discography in front of a symphony orchestra. In this case, that happened to be The Hudson Valley Philharmonic, accompanied by composer Nobuyuki Nakajima (the man who worked with Birkin to morph the original material into content suitable for an orchestra to play) behind the piano.

    The house lights when down inside the auditorium and the orchestra played an introductory piece before Birkin, now 73 years old, walked into the spotlight from the left side of the stage, clad in an appropriately androgynous black jacket and slacks outfit that somehow seemed perfectly suited to the occasion, mixing the formality of a symphony with the less formal aspect of the jazz and pop songs being transformed through this performance. She smiled for the entire set, but spoke to the crowd infrequently. When she did, it mattered - she introduced Nakajima as well as the orchestra and its conductor (whose name, sadly, I missed - but who deserves plenty of credit for getting the best out of this group of very talented musicians).

    About a third of the way through the set she spoke, with some sadness and nostalgia in her voice, about Gainsbourg (the only time she would do so during the performance), noting that he was both the funniest man she had ever met as well as the saddest, but that she felt he's be overjoyed to see his music treated the way it was being treated this night. She then noted that he'd also have been happy to see his daughter, Charlotte, perform one of his songs, at which point Charlotte Gainsbourg came out and did a duet with her mother on the song Ballade de Johnny-Jane, a single she recorded with Gainsbourg in 1976. Charlotte did not speak but sang beautifully, they complimented one another quite nicely.

    Later in the set, as the orchestra started the introduction to Gainsbourg's iconic Requiem pour un con, Birkin stopped the performance, telling the audience that she had no rhythm and needed to bring out someone who did to help her. At this point, Iggy Pop swaggered his way onto the stage, dressed neatly in a sharkskin suit, to handle what would have been Gainsbourg's part of the vocals on the original recording. The followed this up with a duet on í‰lisa, the most upbeat song of the night that had pretty much the entire auditorium clapping along, smiles on ever face in the crowd. These two work very well together, Iggy's baritone voice complimenting Birkin's adorably high falsetto beautifully, and in such a way that you can't help but feel the connection to her original duets with Gainsbourg.

    Before the night was over, Birkin would cover Isabelle Adjani and Petula Clark but, of course, concentrate throughout the night more on the work she did with Gainsbourg - which was the reason for all of this to be happening in the first place.

    The set list consisted of:

    Ces petits riens / Lost Song / Physique et sans issue / Valse de Melody / Fuir le bonheur de peur qu'il ne se sauve / Les dessous chics / Ballade de Johnny-Jane (with Charlotte Gainsbourg) / Amours des feintes / Exercice en forme de z / Manon / La chanson de Prévert / Requiem pour un con (with Iggy Pop) / í‰lisa (with Iggy Pop) / Pull marine (Isabelle Adjani cover) / La gadoue (Petula Clark cover) / Jane B. / L'anamour

    The encore consisted of a medley of some of Gainsbourg's better known tracks, done without any vocals only by the orchestra (Lemon Incest / Je t'aime moi non plus / Initials BB / Ma Lou Marilou / My Lady heroine) and the, finally, an excellent cover of his immortal classic, La javanaise.

    Gainsbourg's music translates to the orchestral world extremely well. It was fascinating to hear how Nakajima took what were often times (though certainly not always) simple arrangements and give them a musical complexity that they never had before. It did, occasionally, render some of the songs almost unrecognizable, they sounded so different than the recordings made in the sixties and seventies, but it worked. The music was moving, emotionally involving and at times, even gripping.

    A few low quality cell phone pictures are below as well as a video of Birkin and Iggy Pop performing í‰lisa on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Kimmel the night before the concert took place.

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