Mick Harvey – former seed in Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, producer, songwriter – has been celebrating the songbook of Serge Gainsbourg for nearly 25 years. In 1995 he released the first installment – Intoxicated Man – of what has become a 4 album journey that also includes in the set: Pink Elephants (1997), Delerium Tremens (2016) and Intoxicated Woman (2017).
As part of the Adelaide Fringe, Harvey brought this journey to life with a consummate ensemble of musicians that included J.P. Shilo, Dan Luscombe, Glenn Lewis, Hugo Cran, guest vocalists and a string section.
This is not a purist rendition of these canonised songs. These are Gainsbourg’s songs but it’s definitely Harvey’s show. The lyrics have been translated into English for one. Which – for native English speakers – unlocks all the pillow talk, the innuendo, the double entendres, the cheekiness, and at times, the pure unhinged naughtiness. Not that understanding the lyrics in the past was a true negative in an English-speaking cocktail party. Cool tunes, French, Serge – it just added to the mystique really.
But it does work as well in English, often sung with an Australian tone, as it does in French. That’s interesting.
Cool is the operative word it comes to Gainsbourg. You can play one of his albums in any part of world and immediately infuse that space with a bohemian, sophisticated, edgy, cool vibe. His music makes you drink another cocktail. Drop a witty comment. Make a smooth move on the prettiest or most handsome person in the room. It is the musical cocaine for a fondue swingers party.
Gainsbourg was one of those creative creatures where their life story becomes indelibly entwined with their art. He was a productive, creative polymath: Songwriter, pianist, poet, painter, writer, actor, director and cultural provocateur. His body of work stands on it’s own.
But, his on display personal life – brace yourself for the biggest understatement you will read this year – was impressively complicated.
It’s no accident that the promotional poster for this tour is Harvey at a bar.
The black and white photographs of Gainsbourg anaesthetising himself in a bar, with a cigarette looking at you with his big expressive eyes, whilst processing one of life’s infinite combinations of grief, are iconic and speak to us all directly. It’s no longer just a French thing. It’s a human thing. In some shade and degree, we have all been there, in that place.
In the concert Harvey took his audience through the rich and wonderful terrain that is Gainsbourg’s catalogue. He also created something new and relevant as Parisian Yé-yé collided with the Melbournian alternative scene. There will be times in our lives when we will check into that bar again. There is some comfort knowing that Serge will always be there with us.
The Ticket Puncher
The Song of Slurs
69 Erotic Year
New York USA
The Eyes to Cry
The Barrell of my 45
Bonnie & Clyde
Run from Happiness
Puppet of Wax
A Day Like Any Other
The Sun Directly Overhead
Don’t Say a Thing
All Day Suckers
You can see Mick Harvey on his Intoxicated Man tour at the following places/dates:
March 29 – Spiegeltent, Hobart 6:30pm
March 31 – Castlemaine Festival, Theatre Royal, Castlemaine 3:15pm
April 3 – Spiegeltent, Canberra 6:30pm
April 5 – Nocturnal, Melbourne Museum 10pm (with Harry Howard’s NDE, Gemini 4, Primo, Ti Amo 3 and film programs and the whole Museum open from 6:30 – 11pm)
What’s your favourite Serge Gainsbourg song?