Wednesday, Feb 16
Better than: Passing out in a nightclub with Kate Moss.
So, it’s Fashion Week again, as you may have observed from your safer vantage point of flat shoes and carbohydrates. Every season, these trussed-up trade shows unveil designers’ newest collections so department-store buyers and editorial heads can decide exactly which Tibetan-yak-fur chaps you’ll be wearing in the near future, and crowds of fans and hangers-on descend on the epicenter, Lincoln Center, to be photographed endlessly in various degrees of costumery. It is, for all involved, a moderately entertaining but ultimately exhausting process, largely because of the attention-craving inanity that is singularly, disproportionately rewarded here; your high school home-ec teacher hated your hand-painted, houndstooth papier-machè hat and ferociously clashing pink-and-red zebra-striped pantsuit, but this week, the fashion press is fawning over you like you’re Audrey Hepburn incarnate. It’s just so much effort, to the point of being inherently unglamorous.
Which might be why I haven’t seen singer/actress/model Vanessa Paradis at any shows during this week of laborious postmoderism; for her international fame as the face of Chanel, she belongs to the foreign guard of haute fashion, and she makes it look damn easy. (Then again, I don’t run in her social circles: parties at the Louvre, villas in Monaco, Johnny Depp’s bedroom.) She’s been famous in France for most of her life; in 1987, at age 14, she had a No. 1 hit with the pop single “Joe le Taxi” (which also charted in Britain, an unusual feat for a French-language song), which led to continuous modeling with the most elite fashion house in the world, which led to award-winning movie roles and pop albums (six studio albums to date). However, in the States, she’s known almost exclusively for being Depp’s longtime girlfriend — which is why tonight was her first-ever headlining tour date in the United States. And, to cop a fashion aphorism, she made it work.
Full disclosure: I don’t speak French. This was more an impediment than expected at Town Hall, an ornate Times Square theater just two blocks away from where Spiderman and Bono are currently taunting death. Her crowd comprised mostly French expats and tourists, if the index of Manhattan souvenirs were any indication, and Paradis catered to them loyally by singing almost entirely in her native tongue. (She collaborated with Lenny Kravitz on an English-language debut in the early ’90s, but it didn’t take with American audiences.) Hers is unabashedly fragile pop, too sweetly guileless and devoid of pyrotechnics (vocally or otherwise) to achieve similar widespread success here, and she performed it with cheerful subtlety. Seated on a tall stool, her House of Chanel-approved long legs shooting artfully out of the spotlight, she led her bright but sparing backing band — which intermittently included a string quartet — with only her lilting vocals. When she rose occasionally to dance or pluck her guitar, her voice increased dramatically in resonance, like the sharpened focus of a familiar lens; she was a poised, serene presence, wandering under jewel-tone lights meant to match a decadent disposition.
When she did break into English conversation, it came as a surprise; her pop was evocative enough, I suppose, in my agreeable stupor of not understanding a word. She introduced the upbeat ode “Chet Baker” a bit shyly, explaining that everyone should listen to Chet Baker in the rain in a Studebaker. And it was a beautiful rendition: Paradis playfully leapt with the vowels, leaving lines as pleasantly blurred as the scenery outside those storm-soaked windows. She seemed emboldened by the track, dancing around the stage in lithe snake-charmer sways to quite the audience appreciation.
The occasional English selections — a spare and vocally soaring cover of “Hallelujah,” “Be My Baby” off her U.S. debut (a nonchalant request for monogamy like only the French can deliver, and no relation to the Ronettes’ single) — were solid and lovely, but theirs didn’t match the reception for “Joe le Taxi,” a late-set surprise of unusual arrangement (“more cowbell” made it across the Atlantic, clearly), and the raucous closer “L’Incendie” from her 2007 album Divinidylle, for which Paradis strode purposefully over in those stiletto boots to the drum set and wailed on the cymbal until she seemed intent on cracking it apart.
Paradis’s American debut was a confident occasion, one of class and good nature. And despite certain audience members’ inability to understand most of it, it was artful — a lovely, welcome moment of subtlety in a week of pure shouting.
Critical Bias: I’m reading A Moveable Feast right now.
Random Notebook Dump: Models can smile.
Overheard (well, heard directly): Adjacent audience member, to SOTC: “Bonjour vous sont comment c’est excellent pour regarder Vanessa Paradis quel est votre siège quel est votre nom vous êtes le journaliste qui est si agréable vous fait habite en le carré de temps?” (or similar) SOTC: “…Oui?”
Set List (per VP’s publicist):
2 QUE FAIT LA VIE
3 JUNIOR SUITE
5 DANS MON CAFE
6 MARYLIN & JOHN
7 CHET BAKER
9 ST GERMAIN
11 WHEN I SAY
12 WONDERFUL WORLD
13 SUNDAY MONDAYS
14 JOE LE TAXI
15 BE MY BABY
16 LE TEMPS DE L AMOUR
18 VAGUE A L AME
19 DIS LUI TOI QUE JE T AIME
20 DIVINE IDYLLE
23 LE PETIT BONHEUR (TBA)
24 IL Y A