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Paris songs, L.A. style

Former locals Rufus Wainwright and Belinda Carlisle make French music pop.

January 02, 2008|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

Patrons walking out of Walt Disney Concert Hall into the first moments of 2008 early Tuesday morning, some of them bedecked with the gold metallic streamers that had erupted at midnight, could hear the insistent thump of electronic dance music from one of the evening's open-air downtown events.

That sound, along with some hip-hop and assorted forms of rock, dominated the L.A. entertainment landscape on New Year's Eve, but the Disney Hall experience was altogether different -- a relatively sedate program of French pop music, a party where everyone stayed in their seats and you couldn't even bring Champagne into the auditorium.

Serving a more sedentary and sophisticated audience, "A Night in Paris" filled the niche that's been occupied in past years by acts such as Pink Martini, but the real draw was the unusual pairing of two performers not particularly identified with French music, Rufus Wainwright and Belinda Carlisle.

It was a homecoming of sorts for the latter, who fronted the Go-Go's during the Los Angeles band's rags-to-riches passage from punk-rock novices to pop-rock princesses. She lives in France now, and her 2007 album "Voila," a collection of French music, provided the five songs in her set, as well as the version of Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie et Clyde" she sang later with Wainwright. The two ended the night with the Go-Go's hit "Our Lips Are Sealed," in French, of course.

During the second of Monday's two concerts, Carlisle was somewhat formal in manner and delivery, but the material was strong and varied, from the swirling, carnival waltz of "Sous le Ciel de Paris" to the Velvet Underground-like folk-rock of Francoise Hardy's "Pourtant Tu M'Aimes." Carlisle packed most of her concentration into Leo Ferre's hyper-dramatic "Avec le Temps."

A troupe of six dancers gyrated to her version of Frankie Laine's operatic 1951 hit "Jezebel," and it periodically returned to romp through the plush salon furnishings of the stage set. Both singers were accompanied by a six-piece band led by local pianist Dave Palmer, a versatile and sharp outfit that did some hot-jazz vamping during interludes.

Wainwright had quite a run in the Southland in 2007, from his concerts at Coachella and the El Rey Theatre in the spring to his high-profile tribute to Judy Garland at the Hollywood Bowl and finally his year-ending duties Monday.

The acclaimed singer-songwriter grew up in Quebec and is based in New York, but he has deep roots in Los Angeles, where he lived when he recorded his first album in 1997, and he was joined for a few songs by locally based Frenchwoman Bernadette Colomine.

Wainwright's adherence to the show's Parisian theme was somewhat loose, a fact that he milked for some humorous mileage. His portion of the evening included his recent English-language ballad "Leaving for Paris," a folky French-Canadian "response" singalong, and a version of "Moon Over Miami" done in French a la Josephine Baker.

Wainwright delivered some fiercely focused performances. His solo reading of "La Complaint de la Butte" brought the audience to hushed attention, and he sang his version of the Christmas song "Minuit Chretien" ("O Holy Night") in a high register that made his voice pure and steady, without the signature wobble that distinguishes his singing but can also distract from a lyric.

But it was the sparkly-suited singer's ebullient personality that carried the evening. Giddy and goofy, Wainwright made the room feel intimate and the sentiments genuine. It might not have been a definitive exposition of French popular music, and you might not have been able to raise your glass with his, but you felt as if you were celebrating with a friend. And that's what counted, in any language.


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