Live Review: So Frenchy So Chic In The Park

16 January 2017 | 2:16 pm | Ching Pei Khoo

"[Belin] partly mimes a series of exaggerated gestures and swaggers like a dignified stray cat from the well-heeled cobblestones of Parisian streets."

Having trekked through acres of dusty red carpark grounds, the contrasting lush green lawn that open up as we enter the gates of Werribee Park are an ethereal sight to behold. The serene, gentle vocals of Sophie Maurin, thick with Gallic curls and lilting against a laid-back instrumental backing, welcome us as we hunt for a spare shaded picnic spot. The delicately layered structure of her compositions belie her past life as an architect and jazz pianist before she successfully launched her musical career. Although just an opening act with a truncated performance slot, quite a number of visitors are disappointed to discover that none of Maurin's recordings are available at the merch tent.

Behind the scenes, Bertrand Belin and his four bandmates face a hell-raising moment of their own. "We would like to explain why we all have whitened faces," Belin explains to the audience in his characteristically low, measured voice. "We have been travelling for four days and had two cancelled planes, and we have just arrived here for the first time in this country two hours ago."

No one could have guessed it, though, for Belin and his band are seasoned pros and calmly proceed. With the unflappable cool of a flaneur — the romantic figure of an artist-poet from Charles Baudelaire's writings who is paradoxically filled with wanderlust yet maintains solitude from the world in order to study it — Belin and his band bring a subtle gravity to the festival. The smouldering Pour un oui ou pour un non and Altesse, in particular, display the Brittany coast native's talents as an actor as he partly mimes a series of exaggerated gestures and swaggers like a dignified stray cat from the well-heeled cobblestones of Parisian streets. An admirer of Leonard Cohen, Belin's tracks share many similarities to the recently departed legend. Vividly descriptive, lyrical verses are often layered as spoken word in Belin's softly guttural vocals as he considers everything from decay and destruction to a broken heart. Jet lag and fatigue could not stop Belin from leaping down from the stage with an extended microphone lead to get amongst the audience.

Unfortunately, it's just past high noon and the sun keeps many in the crowd firmly planted under the large parasols and elderly trees. 

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

"The Liminanas are next. Watch out," Belin intones with deadpan solemnity at the conclusion of his set (and somehow having hoisted himself back up on stage from the lawn). So Frenchy So Chic creator and Cartell Music director Jean-Francois Ponthieux briefly describes the epic effort the band made in travelling to get here and thanks them.

And Belin's right. We are taken down a '60s psychedelic, trippy, ye-ye journey by The Liminanas with their reverb-laden hooks and vocals that are heavily indebted to the likes of Serge Gainsbourg, Ennio Morricone and Brigitte Bardot. Headed by Lionel Liminana on guitar, bass, organ and vocals — and his wife Marie on drums and percussion — the band's very eclectic-yet-nostalgic take on American garage sounds clearly appeals to the grandparents in the crowd. Many of them actually leave their picnic rugs to brave the sun and reclaim their youth in front of the stage, swaying delightedly at a sadly neglected era. The rapid grooves on tracks like Russian Roulette and Garden Of Love are irresistible to say the least. A variety of well-placed sound distorters also add atmosphere to the hazy vibe.  

Festival favourite Nouvelle Vague return this year with a more restrained, considered style that departs from their earlier rambunctious offerings. Current female lead vocalists Liset Alea and Elodie Frege inject the festival crowd with a much-needed adrenalin shot after having quaffed down all that lunchtime cheese and champagne. The crowd in front of the stage swells, drawn by the pure kittenish energy of Alea and Frege as they sashay ever-so seductively to the lightweight African- and Spanish-inflected tracks from their latest album I Could Be Happy. Known for their new-wave covers, the tracks traverse a wide musical terrain — from the doo-wop tempos of I Wanna Be Sedated and the flamenco guitar strums of Ever Fallen In Love, to the off-beat numbers like All Cats Are Grey and an '80s pop love letter in Love Comes In Spurts. Their best tracks, however, are the ones with the dreamy, bossa-nova melodies like those of La Pluie Et Le Beau Temps.

Nouvelle Vague alumnus and Frankston-born singer Nadeah is brought out as a surprise guest vocalist. The now-Paris-based soloist featured on So Frenchy So Chic In The Park's 2013 line-up and brings back fond memories of Brigitte Bardot's appeal. Barefoot and in a leopard-print wrap dress, she prowls the length of the stage and sinks to the floor at the conclusion of her first song and then finishes I Melt With You. Her husky vocals add depth and are a perfect foil to Alea and Frege.

Deluxe should rename themselves 'Aerobics'. Theirs is the most high octane-fuelled act of the day, featuring endless jumps, lunges and arm swings that leave us breathless just watching them. From the first moment, the instrumentalists and female vocalist from Aix-en-Provence in the south of France enthrall with their mix of electro, hip hop, funk and jazz. Nasally lead vocalist Liliboy (Elisa Poublan) adorably flaunts a red-and-gold sequined miniskirt in the shape of a moustache — the band's logo — and raps to hip hop numbers with aplomb. She lends just as much power to pop numbers like Baby That's You, the funky Oh Oh and Wait A Minute. Counting Beat Assailant, The Roots, General Elektriks and Cannonball Adderley as prominent influences, the band ricochets from one addictive track to the next with tireless choreography and enthusiastically encourage the crowd to join them in dancing and even sitting down at one point.

With their eye-catching red-and-gold, military-themed costumes and all manner of tassels and sequins, the band's male members all sport actual moustaches that add to their slightly camp appeal. But their music is pure manna to the crowd.

As we exit the Werribee Park gates, we're sad to relegate another successful So Frenchy So Chic In The Park to the memory bank.