Edinburgh Festival, review, Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales - Room 29: Those hoping for a large dose of the Cocker wit won't have been disappointed

Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales perform 'Room 29' at the Edinburgh Festival: Beth Chalmers
Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales perform 'Room 29' at the Edinburgh Festival: Beth Chalmers

Architect William Douglas Lee’s earthquake-proof, French-imitation Chateau Marmont hotel opened in Los Angeles in 1929, and the nine decades since have brought it a mighty infamy as the temporary home to a procession of the 20th century’s most famous Hollywood film stars and touring rock artists, as well as a litany of their celebrated misdeeds. First performed as a work-in-progress in Hamburg in 2016 and turned into an album earlier this year, Room 29 is a tribute of sorts to the famous old establishment from Sheffield’s master of the wry Jarvis Cocker and Canadian DJ and producer turned tongue-in-cheek but fiercely talented concert pianist Chilly Gonzales.

For a contemporary Edinburgh International Festival which likes to emphasise both its connection to classical culture and its awareness of popular artists, this three-night stand by the pair was a godsend, although it must be noted that anyone whose month in Edinburgh has been busily immersed in first-class theatre will find the more performative aspects of the show flimsy in places. Amid a lovely set and gorgeous lighting (designed respectively by Cocker and filmmaker collective Auge Altona, who also created the video backdrop, and Cristian Henning), Cocker reclines on the bed or sits by the table lamp alongside Gonzales’ grand piano, but more often strides the floor like the wiry Pulp frontman who many in the audience will have turned up to see.

Those hoping for a large dose of the Cocker wit won’t have been disappointed, for this was a performance with a heavy spoken element, bordering on the interactive. The more successful and in-keeping with the subject matter aspects involved his enthralling but often too-short introductions to the Chateau’s famous residents, including Mark Twain’s tragic daughter Clara Clemens, Jean Harlow and the reclusive Howard Hughes, which offered insight and depths to many of Room 29’s more pleasantly whimsical tracks like “Clara” (“your father was smarter than you... your daughter’s taken to the booze”) and “Bombshell”. It would have been nice to hear more of these tales.

Less convincing was Salome’s flimsy segue into discussing television, and Cocker’s obsession with it (he apologised to his mother, who was in the audience) along with the rest of the 20th century, which led to a weird segment where his performance was broadcast from backstage onto an old black and white set; and also an inexplicable variation on a screen test, where an audience volunteer was chosen to model a cup of tea across the stage. Yet the central pair of performers – backed for most of the show by Hamburg’s Kaiser Quartett – are masterful managers of a crowd, and their low-key and slightly spun-out set of chamber pop balladry resonated well in these surroundings.