In 2000 at the not so innocent age of 15, I would stay at a girlfriend’s house when her Dad was away for work. He had an impressive music collection, an entire wall of shelves for CDs and records of music from every corner of the world. My most favourite discovery in his vast collection was the self-titled album from cabaret jazz group Paris Combo, which my girlfriend and I would play to death while smoking joints, conjuring up outrageous meals in the kitchen and pretending we were in a small apartment in Paris. Shamefully I burnt a copy of that CD and it became a prominent fixture in my personal soundscape throughout my senior high school years, often taking me back to that pretend Parisian apartment in the throes of studying for exams and providing a gleeful escape from the pressures of teenage life. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I made it to Paris, and my perception of the city itself had become that music. To me, Paris felt exactly like Paris Combo sounded. Fun, bustling, chaotic and seductive.
Fast forward 23 years and I was delighted to see Paris Combo on the programme for this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival and promptly alerted my mother, whom had also loved my pirated copy of their 2000 self-titled release and had enjoyed the same escapism with it. The opportunity to see this well-loved act perform live was unexpected and exciting so we donned our most sparkly flamboyant outfits for a visit to the Dunstan Playhouse on opening night of the Cabaret Festival. We were not alone as the Festival Centre was buzzing with guests dressed up in their most fancy outfits ready for a night of culture and entertainment.
What I wasn’t expecting was the heartbreaking love story behind this ensemble. Front woman and songwriter Belle du Berry, known for her enchanting voice, quirky song writing and stage chemistry had sadly passed away in 2020, shortly after releasing their last album Quesaco? Belle du Berry left behind partner and collaborator David Lewis and their young daughter Ella Lewis, along with a legacy that will continue to carry on through her music and the artists that perform her work. Geared as a tribute to the late performer, guest vocalists Carmen Maris Vega, Billlie, Aurore Voilque and Man Razanjato shared the stage to deliver some of the group’s most well-known songs, spanning over two decades of work.
The show was nothing short of spectacular with the band consisting of two percussionists, a double bass, violin, acoustic guitar and Lewis simultaneously playing a grand piano and trumpet- something I have never seen done. The venue filled with the sounds of a late-night Parisian Jazz club providing a captivating sensory adventure. The audience sat and absorbed every moment, completely awe struck by the energy and passion of the performance.
As the songs are all in French, Australian born band member and music director David Lewis took the audience through the translations and meanings of the songs played, which were highly amusing and of typical French humour. Songs such as Senor, which was described to us as a “song about long term celibacy… if you have been alone a long time, sometimes it’s ok to go with anyone” and performed with the velvet alto voice of Carmen Maris Vega, interluding with the meticulous guitar work of Potzi inciting cheers from the audience. Letter AP, introduced as a song about the not so glamourous part of Paris- the pollution and smell, was translated as describing the city as ‘farts’ and sang by the band’s drummer Francois-Francois incorporating an upbeat solo from the double bass. Every musician was given the spotlight throughout the set to show off their immaculate skills, with David Lewis on trumpet even putting his instrument in a bowl of water to create a very interesting effect during heartfelt ballad Sous la Lune.
The most heartfelt song of all however, was the performance of Notre Vie Comme un Western by daughter of Belle du Berry and David Lewis, Ella Lewis, whose voice and presence was angelic. A fitting tribute to her late mother, who wrote the song for an Australian documentary maker, and emblematic of du Berry’s love affair with this country both musically and literally. Finishing the evening with an invitation to dance, half the audience obliged and danced wild and carefree in the aisles to Pas a Pas and Mobil ‘Hom.
Iconic, sassy, upbeat and dramatic, Paris Combo are an extraordinary ensemble that manage to cross over so many genres and still sound quintessentially French. There is no other musical act like it and there will never be again. Although it is devastating to learn of Belle du Berry’s passing as she is the heartbeat of this music, the tribute to her work by the band and guests was done so elegantly. A stunning show and one that should be experienced by all music lovers no matter their preferred style.
Live Review By Bec Scheucher