On Friday night the Barbican concert hall was treated to a performance (in the truest sense of the word) by French singer, Camille. A unique musician, her career spans a decade-long repertoire and, although the UK release of her most recent album, “Ilo Veyou”, came and went without the fanfare it deserved, this sold-out show was packed with Londoners of all ages.
Camille is more than just a Chanteuse Française and whilst she certainly pays homage to the genre in songs such as “La France”, she playfully subverts it by shaking the sound out of the realms of easy-listening, using her body as the rhythm section and playing around with words in both French and English. The a cappella songs off her albums “Le Fil” and “Music Hole” brought comparisons to Björk’s “Medulla” and the new album certainly continues the thread of layered vocals and melodic word-play, but perhaps without such a rigid concept.
The new material dominated the first half of the performance, in which Camille moved around a flashing light-bulb that threw wonderful shadows across the stage. The sense of performance was captivating and never dull as Camille jumped and danced to the songs, seeming to exude music from every pore in her body. Each song felt like a musical vignette that experimented with vocal sounds and celebrated all things onomatopoeic. The popping bubble sounds of “Bubble Lady” were even accompanied by the band blowing bubbles on stage.
And Camille’s three-piece band proved to be central collaborators as the guitar, double-bass and violin were played in perfect union with her vocals and in the creation of the intense sound that touched upon traditional French, Mediterranean and even Latin beats. They also built up the foot-stomping and a cappella rhythmic threads for some of the older songs such as “Ta Douleur” and “Gospel With No Lord”, demonstrating the songs’ production process to the audience.
The playful use of noises and wordplay were not the only source of laughter during the performance. Camille commanded the audience to sing along with her, with the prowess of a cabaret compere. She then chose two audience members to dance together on stage and, during the encore, even requested the loan of socks for her moon-walking, during an impromptu rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”.
Lasting over 90 minutes, the mix of Camille’s well-considered, polished musical performances and the jovial interaction with the audience made this show feel both epic and intimate, the atmosphere calling to mind a Bastille Day party in full swing.
By Joe Preston Carroll