Jane Birkin opens ears to French-pop

Jane Birkin, the famous French-British pop singer and actress, brought down the house during her Nov. 16 performance at The Great American Music Hall.  ()

Jane Birkin, the famous French-British pop singer and actress, brought down the house during her Nov. 16 performance at The Great American Music Hall. ()

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Very few people can do what singer Jane Birkin got away with at her Great American Music Hall show: Hold the crowd like moths to the flame, hanging off of her every breathy word.

Birkin, a British-cum-French chanteuse, is most commonly known for her work with French pop icon Serge Gainsbourg during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Birkin’s distinctive vocals, which are throaty and youthful, feminine and smoky at the same time, helped to set her apart from her peers.

After meeting Gainsbourg, the two married, thus crowning themselves the unofficial king and queen of all that was hip in France. They worked together until 1980 when their marriage dissolved. Needless to say, as a recording artist, Birkin drew much influence from Gainsbourg, and as a performing artist, much of her live material was Gainsbourg’s, which was a very good thing.

Though the compositions were reworked, most of the songs retained Gainsbourg’s romantic, heartbreaking, and occasionally whimsical quality through Birkin’s beautiful vocals. Taking the stage with nothing more than a microphone and pianist, Birkin sold the audience by the end of the very first number, “Physique et Sans Issue.”

For the number “Élisa,” backing band Djam & Fam took the stage, much to the delight of Birkin and the crowd. Other set highlights included “Couleur Café,” which had the audience clapping joyfully and Birkin smiling her glorious gap-toothed smile, and set closer “Comment te Dire Adieu,” which gave the performers a standing ovation and an encore chant before they even left the stage.

Without Birkin, the band could definitely hold its own, performing an instrumental, “She Left Home.” Violinist and musical director Jamel Benyelles’s fingers gracefully soared over his instrument, while the lute (Amel Riahi El Mansouri), percussion (Aziz Boularoug) and piano (Fred Maggi) filled out the rest of the band. Although the sound was not American, it was not far from the heart either.

Hardly seeming the 58-year-old she is, Birkin hopped and softly danced a barefoot path over the stage during “Les Cles du Paradis,” even so much as letting her coffee-colored locks down. Birkin even managed to pass off a costume change from a modest black pants suit to a revealing red evening gown. Perhaps it was her girlish frame that kept her looking as though she hadn’t aged a day past 30. Then again, perhaps it was her performance mannerisms.

From a coy smile to a raised eyebrow, a giggle to a toss of the hair, Birkin’s graceful and delicate gestures were delightful to imbibe. Bathed in the orange glow of the stage lights, she needed only to sway back and forth to melt all the hearts in the venue. The most captivating moment, however, came when Birkin performed an a cappella version of “La Javanaise” during the encore. As she coaxed the warm melody from her throat, the crowd joined in for the chorus. With a smile, a gesture to the singers, and a nod of approval, they both continued singing. The beauty that could be found in Birkin was her having as much fun as everyone else, a rare trait for performers.