Quebecois Music

Le Vent du Nord at St. James Hall in Vancouver, 3/1/2012

As you know, O Internets, I was extremely eager for my first Le Vent Du Nord show. I’ve been getting ridiculous amounts of glee out of listening to their albums and watching their YouTube videos, and of course, I had the challenge laid down by fellow Le Vent fan Susan that in her considered opinion, Le Vent gives much better concerts than Great Big Sea! Which, of course, is a mighty challenge indeed to issue to this passionate Great Big Sea fangirl. And so, the question of the hour is: how did Le Vent do?

Let’s put it this way. I ain’t saying I’m throwing over The Doyle for Simon Beaudry, when it comes down to Most Favored Bouzouki Player Who Isn’t Dara–but I will say it’s a damn fine thing that I have room in my heart for all manner of joyous music. And love my B’ys as I do, they better be bringing their A game when they go back on tour next year, because the show Le Vent put on for us in Vancouver shot straight up to stratospheric levels of awesome, and it will be extremely hard to top.

I hadn’t been to a GBS show that tiny since they stopped playing the Showbox in Seattle, and the level of energy they let loose was every bit the rival of those earlier GBS shows. Le Vent might not have the same sheer physicality that the B’ys do; they don’t bounce around the stage the same way at all. But that’s every bit of quite all right, because all the energy they didn’t spend bouncing came right out their instruments. They were charming and funny, especially Réjean Brunet. Simon’s singing is a direct threat to the structural integrity of my knees. Olivier Demers does amazing things with his fiddle, especially given the amazing things he does at the same time with his feet. And Nicolas Boulerice? That man commands a room with his voice, and when he unleashed a solo that caused Dara to use the phrase “bitchin’ metal hurdy-gurdy solo”, he was channelling lightning.

But that’s just the picoreview! This being a patented Anna the Piper In-Depth Concert Squeefest, let me get into the details!

First up, the venue was St. James Hall in Kitsilano in Vancouver, which is this church that’s been converted to a community center and which the Rogue Folk Club uses a lot for concerts. (The Rogue Folk Club being an organization of folk music people, of course, and if Dara and I move to Vancouver we will clearly have to get to know these people, because they will clearly be the ones who know where all the awesome sessions are!) The show was held in what had previously been the nave, and when we showed up to claim our tickets, I found that even though I had hounded the others into showing up early so we could scout out the seating situation, the small number of tables up front were already claimed, as were several of the frontmost pews. So the four of us claimed a pew about halfway back in the room. We were far enough back that most of the people sitting behind us were older and more sedate types, and had I actually elected to stay in my seat, I would have had a hard time seeing around the heads of the tall gentlemen sitting in front of us.

(Fortunately for my concertgoing experience, I did NOT elect to stay in my seat! But I’ll get to that.)

Once we were settled, we spotted M. Brunet talking with someone, and M. Demers talking with someone else, and Dara leaned over and asked me who they were since she was having this “hey I’ve seen you before!” reaction–and of course she had, in pictures on my computer! It’s always a little weird for me to attend a concert by a band I’m following, and to see the musicians in the actual 3-D flesh instead of in pictures or YouTube videos, and this time was no exception. I mention this though specifically because it was an indicator of the band’s comfort with these folks–they were clearly at home–and of the general relaxed, intimate atmosphere of the place. It was great!

A nice volunteer lady came over to say hi and to offer us raffle tickets as they were going to raffle off a CD–not the new one, unfortunately, because that one wasn’t out yet, but we cheerfully threw her enough money for six tickets, and told her this was our first Le Vent du Nord concert and that we were getting married the next day! She congratulated us, and when I told her that I had fallen passionately in love with Quebecois music and especially Le Vent, she asked me if I was from Quebec. No, I replied, I’m from Kentucky! She seemed pretty amazed by that, hee. And she also advised us that the band would be loud, to which I said happily that that would be good!

The raffle tickets reminded me, though, that I had a clear and present duty to go scope out the swag table. As expected, I already had every CD they had out–including the duo CD that M. Boulerice and M. Demers had done before they founded Le Vent du Nord! However, much to my glee, they had shirts. I promptly snagged one, a very simple khaki-colored women’s cut one with the band’s name in front. SCORE.

In the few minutes before the show started, I looked as hard as I could from my vantage point at the hurdy-gurdy sitting out waiting for its musician. For an instrument intended to be held as it’s played, that thing was huge–or so it looked to me at the time, to be sure. It doesn’t look as big when Nicolas is playing it, but then again, it puts out an incredible amount of volume. And all of the various twiddly bits on it, the crank and the keys and all, totally make me think that this is perhaps the most steampunky instrument I have ever laid eyes on.

Some trick of the lighting was throwing a little rainbow down onto one of the mike stands as well, I noticed, and subtly enough that I couldn’t tell if it was in fact a trick of the lighting or if the mike stand was actually multi-colored. Either way, it looked cool.

Soon enough a gentleman came up on stage to start the proceedings, and he talked about how this show was being held in conjunction with Festival du Bois and how they were happy to have Le Vent back again; clearly, the band has a history with the Rogue Folk crowd! And he made jokes about how it was St. David’s Day, and weren’t we all supposed to be Welsh or something, yet here we were being about to listen to a bunch of French music about drinking and debauchery and oh yes, did he mention the bar?

Which, all told, was a pretty awesome intro to bring out the band!

In my usual GBS show reviews, this would be the part where I tell you what all the B’ys are wearing. And since the whole point of this post is to give Le Vent equal justice, I shall do the same! Except that Dara got a nice (if somewhat underlit) pic of all four of them, so I’ll let her picture do the talking. Behold, Le Vent du Nord!

Le Vent du Nord

Le Vent du Nord

My clever, clever Dara eventually snapped a pic of a set list too, so I can write it out for you in full! Good thing, too, because I haven’t yet memorized the titles of all of the various instrumental pieces, and there were a lot of them!

Set 1:
Winnebago (?)
The dragon of Chimay
Les amants du Saint-Laurent
Rosette
Octobre 1837
L’attente / Rossignolet
Le cœur en trois
Lanlaire

Set 2:
Mamzelle Kennedy
Le cœur de ma mere
La piastre des États
Toujours amants
Les métiers
Au bord de la fontaine
La soiree de hockey (?)
Écris-moi

Encore:
Vive l’amour
La traversée

The first set started off with an instrumental I was pretty sure I recognized, but I couldn’t pull up the name of it–and since the quick pic Dara snapped of the setlist only says “Winnebago” on it, this would indicate that I didn’t actually know this one at all! I did note that Réjean was on the piano at that point, and he proceeded to switch off a lot on instruments as the concert progressed.

Olivier told us during the intro to the next song that this was their tenth anniversary as a band, and he made cracks about the number of shows they’d played in Vancouver, hee.

Song #2 turned out to be the one I was really anxious to hear, i.e., “The Dragon of Chimay” (I don’t know the proper French title yet), which had been played up in the news feed of the Rogue Folk Club! This one was excellent, with the band in full lively harmony, though it took me about three quarters of the way in before I finally caught the word “dragon” and realized what it must be. Réjean took up the bass at this point, and I noted Simon with the bouzouki, two songs in a row. I particularly liked the closing of each chorus, where most of the voices would drop out and one voice would sing the last line. And while the song burned by almost too fast for me to really catch, I’m pretty sure that Réjean and Nicolas were trading off on closing the choruses–I’m going to have to listen close to catch this on the album. What was plain, though, was Nicolas’ excellent lead vocals!

Nicolas took his turn to do an intro next, and got a big laugh when he started talking in rapid-fire French, caught himself a few sentences in, and then smiled and said, “Sorry, we feel like we’re at home!” To wit, aw. <3 Then he went into the full backstory of the song we'd just heard, which involved how they'd been stranded in Belgium for a week when Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano in Iceland, blew. So they hung out in Chimay, drinking a lot of beer (like you apparently do when in Belgium), and learned several local stories that they fashioned into a legend for a song! The song is about a princess whose future husband is kidnapped by a witch, and he winds up getting turned into a dragon. And as an SF/F author, not to mention a voracious SF/F reader, I am totally down with songs involving dragon transformation! I'm definitely looking forward to learning this one's lyrics!

Next up was another familiar tune: "Les amants du Saint-Laurent" ("The Lovers of St. Laurence") with Nicolas keeping the lead, Réjean breaking out the mouth harp and the bass, and Simon on guitar. I quite like this one, even though I don't know the words properly yet. The band must like it too–it's on both of their live albums, and I've found quite a few YouTube videos of it too.

Then, "Rosette"! This is a big favorite of mine, and it's the first Le Vent du Nord song I fell in love with. It's the first song on the album Dans les airs, which is the first Le Vent album with the current set of members, and it’s a strong one right out of the gate! Nicolas took the keyboard for this one, while Réjean broke out the accordion. This was the first song in the show where people started going up to the dance floor by the stage, and Réjean in particular was getting into it, encouraging people to come up.

Réjean also did the intro for the next song, “Octobre 1837”, a good strong one from their last studio album, La Part du Feu. This song gets into some history of Quebec and is also one of their original compositions–and while I did note with pleasure that Simon was back on bouzouki, the real star of this song is Olivier. He cuts loose on the fiddle on the tail end of it, doing this jaw-dropping plunge of notes that you really just have to hear to believe. Find this one on YouTube, people, so you can hear what I’m talking about. Or better yet, buy the live album Symphonique, because it’s on there!

And speaking of jaw-dropping performances, next up we got the one-two punch of the instrumental “L’attente”, leading right into “Rossignolet”–bridged by Nicolas demonstrating that he is, in fact, a mighty hurdy-gurdy master and impressing the hell out of Dara. I’d found a vid of this song pairing before, but oh my word, hearing it live was orders of magnitude more awesome, especially once they got into “Rossignolet”, another of my favorites from La Part du Feu. Réjean on standup bass and Olivier on his fiddle created this amazing weave of sound to back up the vocals Nicolas and Simon shot at us. We’re talking sweet piercing knife of harmony here, people, with Nicolas on the melody and Simon on the high parts. Couple this with knowing that the song is about a woman trying to poison her husband, and it comes out shiver-inducing indeed.

One more much more light-hearted instrumental was after that, and I thought at first that this was “Mamzelle Kennedy”–which just goes to show that I haven’t really properly memorized the various Le Vent instrumentals. It was actually “Le cœur en trois”, from the same album, La Part du Feu, and clearly I haven’t played it enough and shall be rectifying this problem forthwith! But really, no matter what they might have played, it would have been completely overshadowed by what came next: “Lanlaire”!

And there was no way I was staying in my seat for that one. I told the others “staying back here is boring!” and zoomed up to see if I could scarf a place on the dance floor, preferably at Stage Simon. I made it up front while Olivier was doing the spiel about this being the song about “the man who was so afraid to do anything wrong that he died without doing anything”–and while Simon was getting everybody to practice singing “LANLAIRE!” Oh, that was fun, and a great way to end the first set. More of the audience had gotten ready for hardcore La Danse Verticale at this point, so there were a lot more people on the floor! Now mind you, there were people doing actual dancing, as opposed to what I was doing–i.e., boinging around singing the response lines in badly pronounced French. So I had to try to stay out of the way of the people who actually knew how to dance. At Stage Simon. Oh DARN. 😀

Especially given that that vantage point was also excellent for observing the flying feet of Olivier, and for getting a look at the board he was using for his footwork. userinfosiestabear noticed it first when she’d gone up to check out the stage before the show started, and she reported to my surprise that it was not wood Olivier was stomping on; it looked more like some kind of stone. I made a point of looking when I got up there and saw that userinfosiestabear was right. I have no idea what it was, but it certainly makes excellent noises!

(And really, I need a better verb than either stomping or tapping to describe what is involved with this footwork. Stomping implies too much force, unless you happen to be Michel Bordeleau in the Charbonniers, in which case you are absolutely stomping. Likewise, tapping implies too little force! So I shall simply say ‘podorythmie’, which I’m pretty sure is French for “Olivier Demers wears rocket-powered shoes”. But I digress!)

During the break, I zoomed back to the bar to knock back a Growers cider, because even one song’s worth of boinging is thirsty work! And to my pleasure, Dara came up to join me on the floor. She told me she wanted to be where I was, which was lovely not only on the obvious general principle, but also for furthering a Cunning Plan I’d set into motion just two days before!

Set 2, then, kicked in with the actual “Mamzelle Kennedy”, which I properly recognized as soon as I heard the first few bars. This is a great instrumental, and I’m partial to it just because Simon is on bouzouki for this one. Not ALL things are made better with bouzouki, but I can think of damn few things that aren’t!

Next came another song I’d been eager to hear, since it hadn’t shown up on an album yet and I’d heard it only in a YouTube video: “Le cœur de ma mère”. This one will in fact be on the new album, and it had a great extended intro as Nicolas asked us all if we spoke any French and/or if we had any idea what their lyrics were about. “Olivier can translate,” he proclaimed of the forthcoming song, which prompted the good M. Demers to go “uh, NO”. And so Nicolas proceeded to tell us of a man who’d fallen in love with an evil woman who asked him to kill his mother so that she could feed the heart to her dog. “This is against the law in Quebec,” Nico (quite deadpan) pointed out.

“I TOLD you it wasn’t a good song,” put in Olivier.

Undaunted, Nico went on, “But we are French! And he was in love!” And so the man kills his mother–but he repents, and tries to run away with his mother’s heart. Only, OHNOEZ, he trips down the hill and drops the heart! (“Shit,” said Nicolas of this development, and there’s something super-extra-charming about hearing a man with a French Canadian accent say ‘shit’.) And as he falls and his ear is near the heart, he hears it beating (and here, Réjean started mimicking a heartbeat on his bass, which was hysterical as well). And it says to him, “Are you all right, my son?”

With an intro like that, I regret to say that the song itself has not gotten sufficiently into my memory yet to rise past the level of “pretty noises the nice men are making”, which is the problem with me and unfamiliar songs in French! This one, though, I’m going to look greatly forward to getting to know better.

Then it was Réjean’s turn to shine again, as he told us, “You have seen us before, then you probably know my story!” Which was a nice little ramble about music being “therapy” for him, and which eventually led into the one song to date that he sings lead on, “La piastre des États”. This is a good one from Dans les airs, and it’s one of the ones with a translated set of lyrics on their site, so I know from that that this song’s all about the things the singer has: ‘a dollar of the States’, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, a kitchen to sing in, and a 16-year-old daughter. The chorus translates roughly to ‘at the table of my friends, my heart is overjoyed’. And I am down with that sentiment. Also, Réjean needs to sing more. He has a very good voice!

And oh yes, I should absolutely also note that on the outro for this song, Réjean and Nicolas teamed up for double duty on the piano. Which, in a word, rocked. Especially given that this was a smallish keyboard that nonetheless stood up well to these two pounding away on it at once, and Réjean is not a little guy!

Next up, another new one, “Toujours amants”, on which Simon sung the lead. To wit: automatic +15 to Yum. The strategy Le Vent appears to have of “give Simon all the swoon-inducing love songs” continues to work extremely well with this one, and I will be paying close attention to it as soon as I get my hands on the new album. 😀 Bonus giggles as well for the pointing out (by Olivier, I think it was) that while the new CD wasn’t on sale at this show, the rest of them were, and we should “feel free to buy them!”

“It’s good for the therapy,” added Réjean wisely.

I outright cheered at what came next: an a capella version of “Les métiers”, another favorite of mine from La Part du Feu! This is the one that made me go “wait, what?!” as I read the translated lyrics on their site, because it starts off with “The girls of St. Roman have five or six lovers each”, and then proceeds to lament the drawbacks of the various professions of this one girl’s lovers. All except the fifth one, the fiddler, at which point the lyrics purr about “he can practice on me / he can play the fiddle, I’ll be making music”. Now imagine these clean-cut handsome boys belting out these lyrics, and you will see why this song makes me go “oh MY!” AND detect a certain bias in play, given that the lyrics lead right into a fiddle solo!

At this point Simon did an introduction of Nicolas–all through the second set, the boys took turns introducing each other at the start of the various songs, which I thought was an elegant way to handle the obligatory introduction of everybody. I forgot to keep track of who introduced who, and at what point, but made a point of noticing this one since Simon doesn’t talk nearly as much as the others. It was just lovely to hear him speak up at all!

The song Nico did at this point was “Au bord de la fontaine”, which goes clear back to Le Vent’s very first album. Band and crowd alike really got into it, and Nico even tried to get us going on a call and response. Which was a valiant effort, given that we were a predominantly Anglophone, “we have no idea what you’re singing, but damn, you sound awesome singing it” crowd! We gave it our best shot nonetheless–and, if these boys can do this to an English-speaking crowd, I REALLY want to hear how they can work a bunch of Francophones!

By now I myself was bouncy enough that I turned and grabbed Dara, and danced with her as best we both could. Neither of us are dancers, but it was big silly fun anyway, and another measure of the band’s ability to get to me. It was impossible to stand still, and I didn’t want to, and didn’t care if I looked like a dork. Dork Nation, unite! La Nation des Dorks, unissez-vous!

Good and worked up, we all next got an awesome new instrumental set out of Olivier, in honor of hockey! He informed us all in doleful tones that the CBC had stopped broadcasting hockey in French, and as we all went “awww!”, Réjean chimed in an affirmation that this, too, was musical therapy. “We watch a lot of hockey since we are born,” Olivier went on, and then he added, “Before that!” And then he told us that the three tunes in the set would represent the three stages of a hockey game, from promising start to VICTORY! With that, he whipped into “La soirée de hockey” (I’m guessing at the title since it wasn’t written out in full on the set list, and so I’m not sure of the proper spelling), which was great, especially the part where he made his fiddle do stadium music riffs. I burst into happy laughter at that. <3

Last but assuredly not at all least, we got "Écris-moi". When I talk about Simon Beaudry being a clear and present danger to the stability of my knees, O Internets, this is the song he does it with. His voice is not powerful, but it is achingly sweet. And I had to grab Dara and dance to this, too, and even try to sing along a bit. I am not certain I wasn't bending a law or two of physics to do this (see previous commentary re: threat to stability of knees), but I'm here to tell you, this song, sung by that boy, doesn't have to break any laws of physics. It waltzes its way around them!

We finished with everybody in the audience singing along on the wordless bit at the end, which was a beautiful moment indeed.

It was very, very strange to NOT be yelling "GREAT! BIG! SEA!" to summon them back out for the encore. But we got all rowdy nonetheless, clapping and stomping and yipping, and it didn't take long at all for the boys to reemerge. At which point my Cunning Plan came to fruition, when Nicolas started in with, "There are two couples getting married tomorrow–"

And Dara turned to me with this OMG look on her face, and cried, "What did you do?!"

"SURPRISE!" I chirped back, and then yelled out to point out userinfosiestabear and userinfomaellenkleth back in their places in their seats–but then I got a surprise myself when a lady came up to us and asked, “Are you the couple getting married?” When I said yes, she handed us a bottle of champagne, saying it was from Susan! So I got to go OMG CHAMPAGNE, and thanked the nice lady! And when the boys began singing “Vive l’amour”, I had to be careful to not bounce around so much because I didn’t want to drop the bottle! But it was all good, because this song I know–which is why I asked the boys for it! And so I sang the response lines at the top of my lungs, in badly pronounced French but it did not matter, because everything was awesome.

They finished up with the last rocking instrumental, “La traversée” from Dans les airs, and I boinged happily with Dara back to join userinfomaellenkleth and userinfosiestabear so I could chirp “Surprise!” at them too. I explained how the Cunning Plan had come about–that I had in fact emailed the band two days before the show to ask if they could do a song for us, and that Olivier had emailed back saying it would be their pleasure! I told them as well that the really fun part of it had been that Susan had also emailed the band–so I had totally blown her surprise! I had not, however, expected the champagne at all!

As we were getting ready to go, I noticed Olivier Demers over by the swag table signing CDs for people, and so I made a beeline for him, because I wanted to thank him to his face. I don’t even remember what I said to introduce myself, but I did point out Dara and userinfomaellenkleth, since userinfosiestabear had already gone outside. Monsieur Demers was very gracious as I babbled my thanks at him, which I was halfway expecting since he was clearly in Engage With Fans Mode. I did not at ALL expect him to hug all of us, or to do that lovely and very French brush against each cheek!

I will leave it as an exercise for the reader as to how to describe my reaction to being hugged by a super-talented, gorgeous French Canadian fiddle player. Suffice to say, it was a beautiful way to end an amazing evening!

All of you, and I do mean ALL OF YOU, should buy Le Vent du Nord’s new album when it comes out in April. Also, you should swing back and buy all of their previous albums. Because these boys are gentlemen of the highest order, and their kind of awesome deserves your support. From this day forward it is damn well going to have mine. I am already looking forward to my next chance to see Le Vent du Nord perform, and next time? Next time I’ll be coming with better French!

But for now I will say thank you SO MUCH to Susan, who is made entirely of home-grown, 100 percent, organic awesome. And courtesy of Google Translate, I will say, merci beaucoup à tous ces messieurs de Le Vent du Nord, et en particulier à M. Demers, pour une soirée spectaculaire!

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