NZ Festival 2014: MFC
Sunday, February 23
Madeleine Peyroux has tried, in her way, to be free of the Billie Holiday comparisons – but then, when she hits into her version of Bird On A Wire it’s one of many times when that sound, that comparison, it’s there. Right there. Right in front of you. This is a coffee-club idea of nightclub jazz with a voice just a bit like Billie Holiday. I should clarify perhaps that I am a fan of the best Peyroux has to offer. The first two albums – wonderful. Selected highlights from there too, particularly last year’s attempt to er, get away from the Holiday by interpreting Ray Charles’ stabs in the direction of country music.
The problem with Peyroux – and it’s so obvious when hearing her live – is that the song remains the same. The arrangement is certainly almost always the same. And though the string quartet (three locals and a concert master that travelled from New York as part of Madeleine’s main crew) was wonderful, it provided little more than set-ups, an opening flourish, a mournful swelling, just a slight sidetrack from the “polite” jazz-lite that is Peyroux’s stock-standard.
Sadly, we could not hear her guitar and she’s a great rhythm player, because of that beautiful voice people often forget about her guitar work, she could have taken the songs in the direction of slight-bossa, could have hinted more at the French sound that informs a lot of her studio recordings. But no. Instead we had only electric guitar licks, however tasteful. And the strings in fact drowned Peyroux’s voice too often.
She’s really quite a special performer, but one that hasn’t quite found the right stage to play on. She has a way with banter, she certainly has excellent taste in her choice of covers, we heard songs from Randy Newman, Serge Gainsbourg, Bob Dylan, three from Leonard Cohen (which was probably one or two too many, really) and the set-closing take on Warren Zevon’s Desperados Under The Eaves should have been the perfect end to a perfect night. But instead we had that sad, pointless, expectation of an encore. The show had been built up to include so many “sad songs” with Desperados the “hangover song” for those who felt just a little drunk, a little gloomy. That whole “story” ruined by a tack-on song. But you can bet the crowd would have moaned just a bit if they didn’t get it. We think we quite like this, but we want value for money, give us one more. It will make us enjoy the show as a whole. Promise.
The audience seemed bored – and boring. For the most part. No real applause for the announcement of a Zevon cover. Perhaps because he doesn’t feature in the credits of the first Norah Jones album the name was lost on most in attendance. It was all so polite, dutiful. It should have been beautiful. Because at her best she’s a wonderful talent. But something never quite clicks, Peyroux can’t quite get away from just being nice. So perfect, so polished – it becomes boring.
There was a full house and that was certainly nice to see, but then on the trudge home all I heard was the murmuring that ‘it was just like what was on the CD”. Couldn’t work out if that was the ultimate compliment, or the biggest criticism…felt that way last time I saw Peyroux too, now that I think about it.