A chanteuse’s love song to la musique
By Leeor Adar
Australian luminary and chanteuse Robyn Archer takes her Melbourne audience through a journey of harsh cityscapes and loving sentiments in Que reste t’il (What Remains?). I suspect the ‘What Remains?’ of her performance is an ode to the love affair we have with French music and how ingrained it has become within our popular culture.
What is so enthralling about Archer’s performance is her engagement with her audience. When an awkward twenty-something seated beside her relatively conservative mother can both burst into song along with the crowd, you know that the conductor of such an experience is of the gifted kind. The crowd is filled with those who have supported Archer for decades, and she certainly knows how to command them with her voice and wit.
Accompanied by Michael Morley on piano, and Paul Butrumlis on accordion, Archer’s music sails through the turbulent times of Paris from the late nineteenth century and as far as the 1970s – even stopping to deliver an outsider’s perspective of the city of lights in Cole Porter’s You Don’t Know Paree. Archer interspersed her songs with stories of the era – a charming education on the history of live performance, with decadent and tragic stories ranged from lesser-known artists to the crowded halls of the Dadaist movement. It is apparent in ‘What Remains?’ that Parisian cabaret was not afraid to regurgitate the city’s own horrors and grime, juxtaposed with the songs concerning quaint longings of love that perch in a higher place above the cityscape.
I found Archer’s ability to weave history through French songs a marvellous form of escapism. My eyes even misted over during a rendition of Marie-Louise Damien’s Pluie: Damien, as Archer explains, was a chanteuse of the Parisian cabaret lesser known than Édith Piaf, but her music was exquisite, as Archer showcases. From Jacques Brel (who’s music dominates the night), Archer takes on some comic short rides with Aristide Bruant’s It Takes Cash, the kitsch delight The Singing Nun’s Dominique and the steamy Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot’s Je t’aime. ‘What Remains?’ is such a tasty and eclectic mix of tragi-ballads and humour, where nothing musical of the French variety is left unturned.
The night came to a roaring close with two comic renditions – Alouette where everyone chimed in, and a bastardisation of Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien. Archer and her team exited the stage with thundering applause behind them – we really wanted more than an encore.
Francophiles found themselves in a comforting terrain in ‘What Remains?’, and for those remaining, find themselves delightfully haunted by the songs that have pervaded their lives through various mediums over the years.
‘Que reste t’il (What Remains?)’ was performed at Melbourne’s Arts Centre, 10-12 November 2017. Follow Archer’s latest here: http://robynarcher.com/
Image by Claudio Raschella