French pop singer Patricia Kaas performed last night at Manhattan’s Town Hall in an Edith Piaf tribute show, “Kaas Chante Piaf.”
Kaas didn’t try to imitate Piaf. In fact, her approach—splashy and full of techno-stunts—seemed at odds with the kind of performer Piaf was. Kaas twisted and writhed and executed marionette-like movements. She busted some modern-dance moves with a lone male dancer who spent other sequences flapping around in the background or on the side by himself. (For his finale, he danced shirtless.)
Kaas sang to a strings-heavy prerecorded soundtrack, supplemented by some partly synthesized sounds involving a few live musicians. The reverb effect was overused, making Kaas’s vocals sound artificial and remote. I was unsure whether she was in fact singing live all the time. The arrangements were decidedly offbeat. “Milord,” for instance, was performed in an eerie minor key.
Projections—including opening and end credits—were used throughout the evening. These included avant-garde music-video clips in which Kaas did some heavy emoting—at one point in a boxing ring. At times, morphing graphic images suggested an oversized screen saver.
The overall effect of all this gimmickry brought to mind the phrase “More is less.”
That said, Kaas clearly is talented—and she had many avid fans in attendance. When she took a break from Piaf and sang one of her own songs, “D’Allegmagne,” she seemed to relax into her own 21st Century pop element.
But then, after performing in passable fashion the stirring Piaf signature tune “Hymne a l’amour,” Kaas introduced a clip in which the real Piaf was heard singing the very same song: clear, straightforward, and raw. Why Kaas invited that unfortunate comparison was perhaps the evening’s biggest “why” in a whole grab bag full of “whys.”