Review: Madeleine Peyroux

Review: Madeleine Peyroux
(Royal Festival Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 20th 2009, review by Zena James)

It was more folk/blues/country than jazz, and it lacked high-energy ‘fifth gear’ moments, but Madeleine Peyroux’s laid-back set nevertheless captured the hearts of a packed Royal Festival Hall on Friday.

After all, fifth gear was not what this show was about. Clutching the bowler hat that was to become her faithful prop between and during almost every song, the melancholy American-French chanteuse and guitarist delivered a string of mid-tempo shuffles, drifting between shy hesitance and bursts of confidence all night. Even in a venue of this size, Peyroux created a distinctly casual, intimate atmosphere, and that’s her strength.

Announcing her set as ‘pared down to the essentials’ she was joined by a good-humoured quartet for an evening of “booze, blues and ballads” and that’s exactly what we got. A collection of easy-listening, wistful tunes from her last three albums with the occasional ¾ ballad thrown in.

Earnest and humble in her links, she was apologetic about singing only two ‘happy songs’. Given her penchant for storytelling, it was frustrating that unclear diction (Peyroux loves to slide her notes and vowels) or an unfortunate sound mix sometimes made it hard to really fall under her spell.

Highlights for me were the unusually (slightly) funky, Hammond-heavy You Can’t Do Me (one of two tunes presented from her fourth album Bare Bones, released in April this year), the hypnotic Dance Me To The End of Love (Leonard Cohen) and a moving, beautiful closing rendition of the 1938 Broadway hit I’ll Be Seeing You.

It was also a welcome and endearing move in the middle of the set for the whole band to shuffle to the front of the stage and ‘recreate’ the Parisian busking scene in which Peyroux spent her teenage years. Complete with the addition of mandolin, harmonica and melodica to the line-up we were treated to a charming waltz sung in French and a warm and engaging Don’t Cry (Bessie Smith).

The surprise choice in an otherwise fairly melancholic evening was a uplifting, up-tempo, hugely popular I Hear Music (Lane/Loesser), the only real high energy section and the closest thing to jazz I heard all night…….

……except that as I passed the Archduke Wine Bar & Restaurant on the way back, the superb swinging sound of vocalist/pianist Anjali Perrin performing Chet Baker’s Do It The Hard Way with her trio drew me in and gave me the jazz fix that Peyroux didn’t quite manage.

Peyroux’s band: Barak Mori – double bass, Darren Beckett – drums, Gary Versace – piano and Hammond organ, Pat Bergeson – mandolin, guitar, harmonica and melodica

Zena James’ CD Tell Me More is on Jazzizit Records.

Photo credit:James Minchin

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. Hello. I was at the concert on Friday and this is the first comment on the show that I have read. I was quite disappointed by the set in general due what I thought was pretty poor voice control for the whole set. I wondered if the mix of booze, blues and ballads was a little skewed toward the booze side?

  2. I concur.

    I was disappointed by Madeleine' performance. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't what Ms Peyroux delivered. “Shy hesitance” – is an entirely accurate observation. Often, inconsistent and, at times, incoherent – a combination that just didn't work. Although the sound engineers seemed to be working hard; the sound quality in the balcony area was appalling. I'd like to see her again but in a much smaller and more intimate venue…


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