Matthieu Chedid provides Gallic flair to the museum’s opening night festivities
Review: French funk-rocker -M- brings rock star bombast to Louvre Abu Dhabi's opening concert
After all the anticipation surrounding Louvre Abu Dhabi throwing open its doors to the public, there was a tangible buzz around the site on the first night, as the daytime visitors trailed away on the park-and-ride buses to be replaced by evening patrons.
A light show at the ordinarily serene water feature adjacent to the museum brought together members of both sets of Louvre-goers.
Vives Reflexions (Museum Reflections) by Groupe F treated visitors to a multimedia display of live-action LED-covered actors atop boats and walls, alongside sparking flashes of fire and projections centring on the art you can expect to see within, from a Fayoum portrait to Cy Twombly’s striking series of blue-and-white panels.
But the hottest ticket was undoubtedly in the semi-open-air courtyard within the museum itself, to see French funk-rock veteran -M-.
The man born Matthieu Chedid has all the right credentials to take the honour of playing the opening-night concert on Saturday, marrying unrepentantly French character with Egyptian and Lebanese roots.
The recipient of multiple awards at France’s equivalent of the Grammys described arriving at Louvre Abu Dhabi as like “landing on the moon”. The sensation, speaking as a non-French-speaking crowd member, was reversed in the first half-hour or so of the set, given that about 98 per cent of the 600-strong audience at this intimate show appeared to be his compatriots and that his material is largely unfamiliar outside Gallic climes.
He arrived in true rock star fashion, coaxing out a cacophonous guitar solo as he strutted onstage from the wings, spotlit all the way, before kicking into Mon Ego from 2003 album Qui de Nous Deux (Which of Us).
Clad in a spangling red-sequin jacket, with a similarly reflective yellow guitar and trademark M-shaped visor, his get-up was half A-lister and half disco/mid-life crisis, but he certainly threw all the requisite shapes of a seasoned stage slayer, including at one point leaping off the drum kit. The less said about bassist Brad Thomas Ackley’s costume the better, however – the Axl Rose-esque bandanna and yellow leather jacket gave the show an odd whiff of parody.
La Bonne Etoile (The Good Star) was the first lull of the evening, as Chedid encouraged the audience to form their own swaying, mobile-phone-based Rain of Light under the impressive Louvre canopy. The overall effect was approximately Michel Gondry meets stadium rock.
Chedid’s crowd engagement was endearing and his between-song banter brought ripples of laughter from the French-speaking members of the audience, although it was not until Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara joined -M- and co that any concessions were made to the internationalism of the Louvre project.
Diawara’s bombastic voice immediately dwarfed Chedid’s on a trio of songs – Cet Air (This Air), Amssetou and Bal de Bamako. The collaboration peaked on the second number, with a dozen-plus energetic dancers parading onto the stage and grinning their way through a riot of African rhythms flecked with choppy reggae tempos, as Diawara whipped around her dreadlocks.
For anyone unaware of Chedid’s prime influence, the penny dropped when he rolled out a cover of the Prince hit Purple Rain that, despite being bathed in a fittingly shaded light, in truth didn’t quite do justice to the late American trend-setter’s signature song. Many in the audience who had been standing for the duration took it as a cue to sit back down, but they were up again for the quirky Le Complexe du Corn Flakes, as the lights were dropped low to maximise the impact of Chedid’s illuminated visor.
He ended the track standing perfectly still in guitar-hero pose for a minute before ripping through a snippet of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell that led into the finale, Je Dis Aime (I Say Love) – his cue to go walkabout through the audience and truly show off his amp-cranking six-string skills.
The word is that these kind of concerts won’t be a regular occurrence at Louvre Abu Dhabi, but on this evidence it is a space that really should be used to its full potential.
Chedid, meanwhile, was applauded offstage like a conquering hero, having brought a taste of contemporary France to Abu Dhabi with some accomplishment.