ATTENTION: this review of the Chilly Gonzales gig with Jarvis Cocker contains spoilers. As there are another three shows in the series, I recommend you do not read if you’re intending to go. If you’re undecided, read this and go from there. That link also gets all the usual review-intro guff out of the way so I can get straight into the show…
Chilly Gonzales \ The Entertainist \ the AKA \ Jason Beck tis a man of a thousand faces and on Wednesday night, late at the Pigalle Club, he was on a one-man mission to communicate the diversity and beauty of music armed only with a piano, sharp wit and some skills. Oh, and the slight matter of a very special guest.
When he stepped out onto stage late on Wednesday night Chilly looked like he’d just stepped out of the shower – resplendent in heavy dressing gown, pyjamas, slippers and wet hair. His white gloves the only indication that he wasn’t simply making his way across the stage for a tasty late-night cigar and nightcap with Jarvis Cocker (for twas he as the special guest), who was quietly sat in a corner.
He began the show not with the chat but with the piano, opening with some solo piano pieces before moving into a properly gutsy blues number. For any newcomers in the audience, perhaps some there more for his special guest, this was a quick entree into the soul of Chilly.
Before too long he addressed the audience, introducing himself with a few of the epithets that have been applied to him, including, Superproducer and, now he lives in Paris, ‘génie de la musique’. I think it’s a tribute to Gonzo that the London audience warmly laughed rather than raise a cool collective eyebrow at this.
After his self-introduction, Gonzales moved into meatier territory, speaking of ‘Tonality as Philosophy’, railing against the dominance of the major key and extolling the virtues of the less flashy, more poignant and melancholy minor – a supposition to which, I naturally incline – with examples (Happy (dour) Birthday, Eine Kleiner (deep-of-the) Nachtmusik and the completely unrecognisable Champagne Supernova).
Next was a little philosophy on rapping (or How To Make Music in a Butch Way) and a call for audience participation. As we helped with some stomping and clapping he gave us a ‘So Called Party Over There‘. I think I was a little giddy after a glass of quality white wine and found keeping in time surprisingly difficult…
From here he announced “and now for my feelings” before launching into ‘Slow Down‘ from Soft Power, a quiet early 80s style-ballad, effortlessly changing the mood.
After a little more piano work, he moved from sweet to bitter with a new song which opened with ‘I hold grudges \ like a rapper holds his crotch… I’ll try and control my temper \ but I’ll definitely remember…” and continues in this creepy vein to nervous laughter.
When done Chilly admitted quietly, ‘Beyond the bad puns, that’s really me’, daring the audience to take him seriously, to cut through the irony.
Yet there was more audience participation next, with us providing a simple bassline (an ‘ostinato’ he said, but I thought more a ‘passacaglia’ myself) over which he would improvise. Here’s the equivalent segment from a HBO show:
Twas a beautiful flight of fancy through genres old and new which served to show off his musical range.
Next some was some Melodika joy, followed by a triumphant ‘Take me to Broadway’ and then twas time for the special guest. Cue: Jarvis, rocking his geography teacher look – the only outfit he seems to own at the moment.
After a bit of chat about living in France – where Chilly claims to be more famous – and speaking French (Jarvis’s parler français c’est de la merde) they launched into the world premiere of ‘Francophobia’.
You can see the whole exchange here:
Can’t say it did much for me, perhaps being Australian by birth means I just can’t get the antagonism towards the French, even in jest – but I guess the fantasy was always going to be better than reality. You can see more of the exchange here.
To end the show Jarvis performed ‘I Never Said I Was Deep’. Gonzales claims it to be an instant classic but the track has the unfortunate honour of being the only Jarvis Cocker tune I seriously don’t like. Further to that, with Chilly’s forthright self-love, tonight was not a night for self-deprecation.
Thankfully, to remove the bitter taste from my mouth, Gonzales returned for an encore, taking centre stage with an acoustic guitar which he slowly proceeded to tune as he ranted about a performer who came on stage and… spent two minutes tuning his guitar. It reminded me of his intro to the album Presidential Suite:
“As an entertainer, what you basically are are the sum of the audience’s thoughts about you. And anyone who pretends otherwise is straight bullshittin’, gang!”
After smashing up the guitar he returned to the piano and gave us a soft classics mashup: bits of Hotel California, Coming In the Air Tonight, a little hints at the final upcoming track before ending with aflourish of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’. The audience listened, still rapt despite the fact that it was nearly 1:30am.
The concert ended with Chilly climbing the piano, having retrieved a pretty young gal (over an enthusiastic stage-invading young man) to play a simple piano part for him, and belting out ‘Political Platform Shoes’, his paen to substance over style:
“So much is cheesy
And that’s for sheezy
But with melodies like these
I make it easy peasy”
Yes he does.