Charles Aznavour croons to fans' delight and Johnny Hallyday shakes it up in separate shows.
French expatriates living in Los Angeles got a reminder of home this week at separate concerts by Charles Aznavour and Johnny Hallyday, two aging giants in French pop music whose relatively limited renown in the United States seems only to have endeared them more deeply to their fans. When Aznavour asked which language he should sing his next song in during his performance Sunday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre, the response from the audience came quickly and with audible pride: "En français!"
The shows illustrated plenty of differences between the singers and the traditions from which they descend: Aznavour and the lyric-driven chanson versus Hallyday and his Continental take on American rock 'n' roll.
But there were similarities too, including each man's all-black wardrobe and a shared repose that worked in appealing opposition to the melodrama in both singers' material.
For Aznavour, 87, that low-key assurance felt like the natural product of the countless hours he's spent onstage over the last half century, playing gigs fundamentally indistinguishable from Sunday's.
Backed by a slick eight-piece band, the singer pondered romance and nostalgia in "L'Amour C'est Comme un Jour" and "La Bohème," punctuating his words with understated facial expressions; "What Makes a Man," Aznavour's well-known depiction of a lonely drag queen, was draped in existential gloom, tender but cool to the touch.
Occasionally his reserve turned dreary, as in "Yesterday, When I Was Young" and "She," his biggest English-language hit.
Mostly, though, Aznavour projected a kind of très chic fatalism that seemed open still to fresh disappointment.
Performing for the first time in L.A. (where he's nevertheless lived since the early 1970s), Hallyday, 68, kept his mustachioed upper lip similarly stiff Tuesday night at the Orpheum Theatre.