It takes a unique kind of musical group to completely transform a venue, a band that uses its sound to remake a space and transport its audience. In its Saturday performance at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, Paris Combo achieved this difficult task, bringing the vibrant flare of a jazz club in the “City of Lights” to Berkeley.
The five-piece outfit — composed of lead singer Belle du Berry, drummer and vocalist François Jeannin, trumpet player and pianist David Lewis (sometimes playing both simultaneously), contrabassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac and guitarist Potzi — brought an eclectic, cosmopolitan feel to the venue. Though the group has experienced some changes in lineup over the years, part of the band’s core strength is the well-versed ease between its members. This chemistry was on full display in the consistency and flow of the show, with each song performed with exuberance and expert musicality.
The setlist for the night allowed each band member to have a moment in the spotlight, with each track providing chances for every instrument to shine. In “Señor,” for example, Lewis’ muted trumpet and piano lines backed du Berry’s scatting vocals. Meanwhile, Potzi’s guitar solo catalyzed the crescendo of the song, while Jeannin’s drums and de Segonzac’s bass line provided a consistent backbone for the melody. The performance perfectly encapsulated the band’s aptitude for functioning as a fully cohesive group working in precise harmony while also showcasing each performer’s strengths.
The songs chosen for this performance comprehensively encapsulated the different emotions, tones and styles the group emulates in its music in general. “Specimen” tapped into the band’s swing sensibilities; “Anémiques Maracas” had the prowling, piano-driven tinges of a tango, and “Living Room” gave du Berry the chance to show off her mastery of rapid lyricism. Du Berry briefly left the stage about midway through the performance to give Jeannin a chance to do a cover of Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?”
The variety of Paris Combo’s music is in part due to the band’s wide range of influences and regional inspirations. In particular, the group brings sardonic and playful lyrics and a bevy of musical influences extending from jazz to Roma music to the tradition of chanson — a lyric-driven style of French music. The band’s range was on full display in this set, with tracks spanning across their varied discography.
Each song was performed with a fluidity of both sound and movement — throughout, the band gave nods toward the spontaneity of its musical influences rather than going into any improvised sections. Du Berry often danced across the stage from her position in the center, giving the physical spotlight to the other band members as their solos came up from song to song. On the Coffeehouse’s small stage, the connection between the musicians was evident — with frequent glances and gestures exchanged between the musicians as the songs flowed from one to another. It was a constant give and take between instrument and voice among the five members.
This deftness between the bandmates’ musicality was further brought to the fore with the banter punctuating the transitions between songs. Du Berry and Lewis often went back and forth, providing the audience with different English translations of the French lyrics and song titles. At one point, du Berry threw out the term “valeureux,” which was translated to “valiant” by Lewis, then as “brave” by du Berry when she dedicated the group’s song “Tako Tsubo” to “the brave, overcoming a broken heart.”
While some audience members took the leap and danced throughout the show, it wasn’t until the last song, “Je te vois partout,” that the majority of the crowd got on its feet. During this final number, viewers escaped the bounds of the seated venue to dance in the aisles and on the peripheries of the room. The exuberant mood continued into the encore, ending the performance on a high note of mesmerizing music.