Win a talent competition, get a contract with Sony, become a big star. It all sounds so easy. Why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, because sometimes that little word ‘Talent’ actually means something in these competitions – and on Friday, in front of a huge Museumsplatz crowd, the young French sensation Zaz wrote the word ‘Talent’ in large font, block capital letters.
For those lucky enough not to standing be in the long queue snaking around the entrance to still enter the Museumsplatz there was an early bonus in the form of Canadian singer/songwriter Wendy McNeill. A veritable ‘one woman band’ she filled out the musical textures to her fanciful songs with vocal tape loops and a foot pedal drum. A flesh and blood drummer and backing musicians would have given us more to look at onstage though and despite Mcneill’s easy smile her charisma and changes from guitar to accordian, my mind did start to wander a little. It’s never a good sign when I start to read the manufacurers name on a musicians instrument.
“Someone with lyrics to listen to and take time over” is how I would describe Wendy McNeill. Not ideal when you’re maybe French and waiting for Zaz to appear. Being English and waiting for Zaz to appear, I listened to the lyrics echoing around the stage as I headed up onto the balcony over the cafe to capture some images of the rapidly expanding tide of faces looking quizically at the waifish young Canadian on the distant stage. At the close I’m not sure what they, or indeed I, understood about the songs but I was curious enough to get a copy of the new CD ‘For the wolf a good meal’ and look forward to aquainting myself with Wendy McNeill in more suitable circumstances – on my CD player with a replay button and a glass of wine.
Isabelle Geffroy, or ‘Zaz’ as she is more famously known, has the impish appearance of a young, impetuous teenager; Bouncing around the stage in coloured stockings like a raven haired Pippi Langstrumpf. In actual fact she is now out of her twenties and her ‘sudden’ stardom is due to a sparkling stage persona that is the result of five hour, seven day a week stretches on the Parisian cabaret circuit supplemented by impromptu shows on the streets of Montmartre. ‘Overnight stardom’ was hard won.
The long stints onstage have not dimmed zaz’ enthusiasm though and the opening ‘Les Passants’ is barely a few notes old before she is literally hopping and skipping around in front of her band. It’s a song about watching people pass by. I only know that because I googled a translation, but the magic of Zaz is that you don’t need to speak French because the most important aspect of every song ever sung is the emotion it evokes and where emotion is concerned this young lady sings multi-lingually. In the footsteps of John Kennedy she has some short phrases written down phoentically for her but her attempts to speak them are more fun than function. A girl in the audience is invited up to translate too – Seeing as Germany and Switzerland are her to date best selling Countries outside France I think language lessons are called for – ah, but the french…
I saw a very wordy description of Zaz as a ‘Pop gypsy Jazz chanteuse’ and by the end of the show on Friday I couldn’t find a way to shorten that description. Much of her material is ‘Chanson Realiste’ in style so comparisons with the legendary Edith Piaf are inevitable. Songs of Poverty and prostitution seem rather at odds with the smiling girl bouncing about the Museumsplatz stage – until you hear her sing that is. Piaf’s ‘Dans ma rue’ is spine tingling even before you know the lyrics telling of a young girl brought up in streets of prostitution and frightened by the nightly cries of the prostitutes – until she finally becomes one herself and realises it is her on cries that now frighten others. Not jolly stuff to be sure, but there are plenty of ighter moments such as when she asks the audience what she can sing in german in place of ‘Ole’!. Consequently she has 6000 people chanting out ‘Alaaf!’ in best Karnival tones.
If the voice wasn’t enough to mesmerize you how about some Tibetan singing bowls? I have to admit that in all the many concerts I’ve been to they were a first for me. Maybe Derek Trucks could make the sound on his guitar, but Zaz has the real thing to start her first version of the hit single ‘Je Veux’. another first for me instrument wise was the invisible kazoo. How does she make that sound with just her hands? I can’t even manage it with a kazoo!
With only one release to her credit I had expected a short but sweet set with a lot of instrumental passages. Those five hour stints in cabaret though paid off, to the benefit of the audience. As we finally drifted off to the Diner for a last drink thinking the show was over we heard a roar of applause as Zaz returned onstage. A second version of ‘Je Veux’ sans Tibetan intro drew us back to the door of the diner in time to see and hear the highlight of this years Concert season: an absolutely breathtaking acapella version of ‘L’Enfant de la Miserie’. You could almost see the poor, starved young child of the song being beaten by her mother. Not the jolliest of images to finish a concert with, but Zaz simply puts her microphone down at the end, smiles; and leaves magical memories in the Museumsplatz air just as surely as she leaves it’s stage.