Journalists enjoy a few perks at Coachella, but none more important than the free admission, and, if your company is paying, a clean bed at a decent hotel. With a ticket that topped off above $300, numerous fest-goers this weekend have asked me if I would have sprung for the trip had duty not called.
The answer is yes, and the reason is simple: Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The French singer/actress doesn’t really tour, unless, of course, one counts publicity trips to support foreign films. Yet in those moments, she doesn’t have an exquisite five-piece band behind her, making her current trek around the U.S. in support of her recently released « IRM » a rare one. With no Los Angeles date on her current docket, at least not one that’s been revealed or leaked, Coachella was the artist’s local stop.
Having a chance to see the artist perform, therefore, is a treat. That’s not to say there weren’t questions heading into this set. Her « IRM, » produced by Beck, is an oddly enchanting mix of real and organic sounds, with weird rhythms and seductive electronics. Few albums can turn the sound of an MRI machine into a trance groove, but « IRM » does it, and Gainsbourg’s wispy — OK, it’s sometimes plain — voice gives the anxiety-probing lyrics a matter-of-fact grace. Yet there’s also the sense that it’s a studio album, and Coachella’s tent stages can be treacherous terrain for such perfectly constructed art-pop songs.
It was the first album of 2010 that I fell in love with, and at this point it would be disingenuous if I didn’t reveal that I stood in line for 25 minutes to meet Gainsbourg and have her sign her latest vinyl single at Coachella’s pop-up record store. It’s unbecoming, perhaps, for a music critic to indulge in such a way, but this was one instance where I wasn’t going to make any effort to suppress my fandom.
If that means those reading will no longer believe me when I note that Gainsbourg’s set was one of the most captivating 45 minutes of music I experienced at Coachella, then so be it. Opening straight-away with her title track « IRM, » Gainsbourg and her band added a little live aggression to the songs, which served not to destroy the subtle moments but instead worked to add tension.
Electronic loops, and a surprisingly fierce guitar from Nicole Morier, greeted Gainsbourg when she sang, « Can you see a memory? » Things didn’t get any less taut when she and her band went into « Greenwich Mean Time, » where hand-clap breakdowns would come out of nowhere and playful taps of a xylophone would sound more and more intrusive as the song went on.
Gainsbourg, working a keyboard and a single drum, was stoic for much of the set but cut loose a little on « Trick Pony, » with its rhythmic stomp and cries of « He don’t know me at all. » An electronic hum moved through the song like a vulture. It’s claustrophobic, yet it still manages to find a groove, and it could easily double as a soundtrack to a runway fashion show.
In one of the few songs not off « IRM » that Gainsbourg performed, she sang, « You haven’t even scratched the surface, but you’re digging through my bones. » But as evident from cuts such as « Heaven Can Wait, » which survived just fine without Beck’s backing vocals, Gainsbourg revealed that she’s not only willing to open the wound but create a mess inside it. As the song built to a rhythmic finale, Gainsbourg let loose a smile, but not until she was recklessly pounding away at the drum beside her.
Photos: Charlotte Gainsbourg performs during the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2010. Credit: Charley Gallay / Getty Images
- French twist, By Monica Torline, Bloggin’ Coachella, Mydesert.com, 4/18/2010
Charlotte Gainsbourg fans crowded outside of the Gobi Tent during the last few songs of an enlivened set from Florence and the Machine. I talked with one Gainsbourg devotee as we waited for her to come onstage, and he said he had the opportunity to meet her at a signing event this weekend. He asked her what her first Coachella was like, and she responded: « Nervous. »
She did look a little surprised — but all smiles — when she walked up to her microphone shortly after 6 p.m. By her second or third song, any nervousness she had must have evaporated, as she attacked her drums.
« Thank you so much, » she said to a packed tent as the sun was setting. « This is my first time at Coachella. … First tour. First everything. »
That fan I chatted with before the show pushed his way up front after it was over. He begged stagehands to toss a copy of the set list to him.
2. Greenwich Mean Time
3. Master’s Hands
4. Me and Jane Doe
5. Heaven Can Wait
6. Set Yourself on Fire
8. Time of the Assassins
9. L’Hôtel particulier (Serge Gainsbourg cover)
10. Trick Pony
12. Le Chat du Café des Artistes
13. Couleur café (Serge Gainsbourg cover)