Madeleine Peyroux - Birmingham Symphony Hall
For ten years, now-thirtysomething Madeleine Peyroux has carved a niche for herself amongst the wine-guzzling thirtysomethings - and beyond - who are her primary demographic. That niche is as classy lounge singer with an admittedly marvellous voice. The show tonight, which takes place at the inevitably reserved Symphony Hall (no drinks inside the ampitheatre, please!), does nothing to radically change one's view of Peyroux's tailored image and sound but nor does it disappoint. Despite this being a far cry from the boisterous rock'n'roll gigs I'm used to attending, the laid-back jazz stylings are perfect for a balmy Sunday evening.
Met with rapturous applause by the almost maximum capacity audience, Peyroux calmly saunters on stage with with her four-piece all-male band. Her opening blurb about the set's opening song, a rendition of Leonard Cohen's Blue Alert, is almost controversial for an artist of her ilk; 'this song is about sex' apparently, and it's almost as if this 'sex' thing she's talking about is a big dirty secret that no-one outside of the Symphony Hall will ever hear of. The fact that her soulful take on Cohen's number is so effectively seductive, despite the decidedly male POV of the song being sung by a woman, is proof that Peyroux has got the goods and can possess a song that wasn't meant for her to sing. Her most recent album, Half the Perfect World, featured an array of contemporary covers that Peyroux does not neglect tonight. Her slowed-down interpretations of Fred Neil's Everybody's Talking and Charlie Chaplin's Smile are less successful than the rousing Tom Waits cover, Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night. Highlight of the evening, however, is her performance of the Serge Gainsbourg standard, La Javanaise. Displaying her Parisian background, Peyroux plucks at her guitar and sings this little French love song with remarkable control. Not only that, though, for she gracefully translates into English via spoken word between lyrics! You may think this condescending of her, or that the translation would marr the song's flow, but Madeleine's affable exterior helps carry the experiment along. She is a pleasant show-woman all night, taking it in her stride when the string on her guitar breaks and getting the audience to applaude the backstage lad who comes to her rescue. Of course, the technical skills of her backing band have to be noted, especially the guy who played double bass and rounded out some songs with what appeared to be improvised tidbits.
Although the show drags when it hits the hour mark, lengthy instrumental breaks during some songs needlessly adding blubber, Peyroux is an arresting focus. She looks like she's not trying, although the warm emotional textures of her voice are nothing less than genuine, marking her out as a modern day Billie Holiday. Norah Jones may sell more albums but Peyroux proves that she too can hold her own when it comes to performing her own material, the more upbeat likes of Don't Make Me Wait and break-up song I'm All Right proving covers aren't the only string to her bow. As I say, this ain't an Arctic Monkeys gig, an anti-climactic encore only adding to the lethargy the final fifteen minutes inspire. However, she is a world-class vocalist and is certainly one of the best at what she does. The fact that she's donated a percentage of ticket proceeds to Women's Aid of Birmingham (each show of the tour donating a portion of proceeds to a local charity) is also very commendable. Gracious and talented.