Thursday, December 18, 2008

Une Aventure Musicale Supérieure: Camille at Den Atelier, Luxembourg

Driving from Brighton to Luxembourg in an aged Nissan Micra to go to a gig might seem like madness to you, but if you'd ever seen Camillelive, you'd understand why the 800 mile round trip was totally worth it. Even in the throes of a stinking cold, I had a brilliant night at what turned out to be the most mind-blowing gig of the year (and I've been to quite a few).

Fellow Francophile Brian introduced me to Camille a couple of years ago when he was staying with us over the summer. Her second album, Le Fil, had just come out and fitted nicely into my budding Chansonica collection. Then when the latest album, Music Hole, was released earlier this year, it quickly became my most listened to album of the summer.

I'd heard great things about Camille's live performances and when Brian suggested going to see her at the Roundhouse in London, I was keen. Except that it was in Camden on a Sunday night, and ever since a bad experience after a Bonzo Dog gig a couple of years ago, I had vowed to avoid rail replacement buses at all costs. The only other UK date was in Glasgow on a week night, so I idly flicked through the European tour schedule to see if there was anything else within striking distance. Luxembourg on a Saturday seemed extravagant but feasible, and Brian was game.

So two weekends ago, Brian, Ant and I piled into our little jalopy and hit the road to the world's only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy. Poor Ant was stuck with all the driving, while I slept in the back for most of the way, dosed up on Benylin. But after a glass or two of restorative Vin Chaud from the Luxembourg Christmas market, I had perked up considerably, and we rocked up at Den Atelier - an intimate warehouse venue near the city's main station. It was already packed with excitable Luxemburgers, and we found ourselves a spot at the fringes of the action, but close to the bar. Normally I'd head straight for the mosh pit, but wasn't feeling 100%, and the no-photography policy made it seem less crucial to be close to the stage.

Unusually, there was no support band, but the main act was more than sufficient. At first I couldn't work out what was going on - it sounded like a synthesised backing track accompanying the French singer, but when I caught a glimpse of the stage, I saw only seven instrument-free people (pictured above) and a grand piano (with pianist) generating the convincingly electronica sound. A human beat-box duo and a pair of body-percussionists provided the rhythm and bass, while two backing singers and a pianist skillfully embellished Camille's own powerfully dextrous vocals. The effect was mesmerising; I have never heard anything like it in my life.

Performed with astonishing panache, Camille's epic set was a mixture of French language songs from the first two albums, a couple of quirky cover versions and most of the more catchy material from the current (largely English) release. A genius hip-hop reinvention of Camille's notorious Nouvelle Vague collaboration, Too Drunk to Fuck, had the crowd giddily shouting along, but everyone was really hanging on the inevitable encore choice, Money Note - a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of those irritating female crooners (Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston etc). Personally, I would have been happy for it to end there, but the punters were less sated, demanding a further three reappearances from the obliging starlet and her quirky ensemble. Seeing as we'd come all that way, it would have felt churlish to bail before the end, and it was worth it to witness an gentle acousitc finale which seemed to calm the crowd into submission.

We rounded off the evening with a nightcap in the bar next door, where everyone was chattering animatedly (in French) about the gig. I resolved to not see any more bands in 2008, wanting to conclude a prodigious 12 months of live music on what was easily the best show of the year.


Photo of Camille live at AB Ancienne Brussels from kmeron on Flickr
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