Live Review: So Frenchy, So Chic In The Park

16 January 2014 | 12:56 pm | Ching Pei Khoo

Many leave the lawns of Werribee mansion with satisfied grins and lingering French love in their wake, asking, “Who’s Lou Doillon?”

An overcast morning and the disappointing news of the last-minute cancellation of headliner Lou Doillon does not deter crowds from making the long journey out west. They are justly rewarded, not only by the clear blue skies in the afternoon but also by the magnanimous efforts of nearly all the remaining musicians in the line-up who play extended sets and much-deserved encores.

Aussie Edward Deer starts proceedings shortly after noon with his trusty guitar and gentle renditions of French music from the album Melodie Francaise – a compilation of French songs by Australian singers of which he himself is included. It is a love letter to the French and Deer imparts this tenderly. It would have been good if he played a longer set like the other artists, especially since traffic delays cause many to miss him entirely.

After a brief break, the picnickers start to tuck into their baguettes, washing them down with crisp white wine and Lilly Wood & The Prick's perfect tempo of pop, electronica, funk and a light touch of rock around the edges. The heavily '80s pop-influenced numbers such as This Is A Love Song, Middle Of The Night and Down The Drain – with its strong synthesiser beat – get toes tapping and shoulders nudging. The band contrasts these dancehall numbers with some slower, floaty ballads like Where I Want To Be (California)

Born in Israel and raised in England, Paris and California, Nili Hadida – the petite frontwoman who performs under the moniker Lilly Wood – is an exotic presence onstage in a black lacey tank top, upper arm tattoo and long, dyed bangs. With impassioned, almost sassy, vocals that belie her tender age, she provides a much-needed counterbalance as the only female presence in an all-male line-up in light of Doillon's absence. Hadida and band co-founder, fellow songwriter and lead guitarist Benjamin Cotto bounce along to their own energy, inspiring a few dozen keen souls to brave the high sun and dance along with them in front of the stage with plastic wine glasses in hand.

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Féfé arrives in an auditory blaze and immediately charges the air with electric charm. “My English isn't good, but when I ask a question, I like an answer: Mel-boooorn, are you ready?” the lithe singer with dexterous limbs and fluid grace quips. “Make some noise!” His highly infectious blend of hip hop, reggae, rap, soul, rock and sampling creates a dizzying, ceaseless vortex of energy and movement that makes hips gyrate involuntarily.

Having grown up in the 'ghetto' Paris suburb of Clichy, Hauts-de-Seine to parents of Nigerian Yoruba origins and counting Afrobeat creator Fela Kuti as well as Marvin Gaye as notable influences, Féfé strides effortlessly between the folk music of his ancestors, the gangsta music of his childhood environment and the rap music of his early musical experimentation. He is easily the most engaging artist of the festival, at one point illustrating to the audience how rap music can be defined by either acoustic or electronic beats – the former sampling Eve's Let Me Blow Ya Mind and Coolio's Gangsta Paradise – only to conclude that he creates his version of rap by combining both. The passionate Le Charme Des Premiers plus the uplifting Parodie and 3 Words round out a very solid performance

Unlike Lilly Wood however, Féfé forgets to warn little ears and parents ahead of some minor bad language. In Cause Toujours, he prompts the audience to sing along to his physical cues, the chorus of which includes the word “bullshit”. But not a single parent stirs or covers the ears of their gleeful, jiggling toddlers. With his exhortations to run around and “jump-jump-jump”, the atmosphere resembles less of a lazy Sunday family picnic and more of a rave party with tiny tots in participation. We cannot wait for this showman and his band to return to Aussie soil.

Many are keen to continue the festivities and Babylon Circus oblige. The nine male band members are led by lead vocalists David Baruchel and Manuel “Manu” Nectoux, who banter with heavy Gallic accents. “Even though you may not understand the words, we thank you for giving us the vibes,” says the slight, roguish Nectoux, dressed like a ringmaster in a black vest and beret. Their French songs – such as Never Stop and Babylon Requeim are coined with English phrases for simple sing-along. With a three-man horn section and piano accordion, the band's eclectic fusion of ska, gypsy, cabaret and punk rock dovetails the energy set by Féfé earlier. Nectoux even airs a political message just before an extended encore, exhorting the audience to “fight for rights, peace, justice and peaceful revolution!”

The festival ends an hour shy of its advertised time. Even though Dillon would have brought the sultry, seductive side of contemporary French music to evenly round up the line-up, many leave the lawns of Werribee mansion with satisfied grins and lingering French love in their wake, asking, “Who's Lou Doillon?”