Quebecois Music

Le Vent du Nord at the Rogue, Vancouver, BC 2/23/2015

As you know, O Internets, in the ongoing dearth of Great Big Sea shows in my life, I have turned to the joy and consolation of the principle of “Any Band With a Beaudry gets me across the border”. Which of course means mes gars of De Temps Antan–who last year broke my personal record of “How many times I visited Canada in one year to see the same band”–and most definitely, Le Vent du Nord!

By now the Rogue in Vancouver has a very warm place in my heart, since I’ve seen both Le Vent and De Temps Antan there twice each. This time around the venue was not set up with tables, which surprised me! But Le Vent did sell the place out, so it does not surprise me that they wanted to get as many people in there as possible. And most importantly, they did leave space for us to boing by the stage as we liked. That’s important, you know.

As for the show itself–it’ll surprise exactly no one that I enjoyed myself immensely. Particularly because this show included five, count ’em, five brand new songs that’ll be on the forthcoming new album, AND because we got the rare and unexpected treat of Olivier Demers taking a break from his usual masterful fiddling to demonstrate that he also plays guitar. AND: “Papineau”, a multi-layered turlutte that showcases all four of the boys’ voices to splendid effect, is now officially one of my top favorite Le Vent songs and that album isn’t even OUT yet. Everyone was in excellent voice and high spirits, band and audience alike, and by the end of the proceedings we had quite the crowd dancing around to “Au bord de la fontaine”. It was AWESOME.

In-depth show proceedings behind the fold!

By now we’ve definitely got a Usual Suspects cadre of attendees at my Quebecois concerts, and this time was no exception. Friends Gwyneth and Bai met up with us for dinner and the show itself, and once we showed up at the venue I also had the pleasure of seeing friends Ginny, Gary, Michelle, and of course Dejah and Devon!

Saying hi to Ginny before the show was particularly fun, as I was able to demonstrate to her that HI I had a copy of Bone Walker for her! But since she didn’t have a bag to keep it in, or the soundtrack copy she bought from Dara, she asked us to keep both items for her till after the show. And while I was talking to her, I got to say hi to Olivier, who got to be the first of the band members I was able to officially greet. (As is just and right and proper!) Olo, bless him, had seen me whining on Facebook earlier in the week–because I’d come down with a cold! So he asked after me and I was very pleased to assure him that I felt much better.

And as with prior shows I’ve gone to at the Rogue, there was a raffle to give away a copy of one of Le Vent du Nord’s CDs. I already have all of the ones that have been released, of course, but I threw the raffle some money anyway just to support the band and the venue. I was charmed as well to see Gwyneth ask for “an arm’s length” worth of tickets, which worked out to fourteen! Meanwhile, Bai asked me if Olivier breaks out specific shoes for doing the foot tapping–to wit, yes. Because here to tell you, folks, it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination at all to imagine how much podorythmie tears into shoes. I’ve seen signs of how much wear and tear Olivier’s foot board takes, and that same impact is wearing into the soles of his shoes, too!

There still were a couple of tables on the side of the stage, and I noted with amusement, as our MC of the evening came up to do the intros, that one of the ladies in the party at those tables was celebrating a birthday. She had on a birthday hat. Splendid way to celebrate a birthday if I do say so myself!

But without much ado, we got very quickly into the show itself, and the band was officially introduced!

It must be said that both Olivier and Réjean were looking VERY stylin’, with the former brandishing suspenders and the latter in quite the dashing vest. (And now I am totally imagining Olivier imitating Matt Smith’s Doctor: “Je porte bretelles maintenant. Bretelles sont cool.”) I only got a few halfway decent pics for visual evidence, which can be found on Facebook over here and I’ve added them to Flickr as well. Dara’s got some better ones on the way as well!

But that’s just the visual stuff. The music was the important stuff, what we were all there for. And the first set in particular started off with–well, not a bang, because it wasn’t that kind of song. But it was a brand new one nonetheless, “Noces tragique”, which I’d heard already via video. Simon sang lead on this, and he had his bouzouki out for it, both of which are things that do not suck in the slightest. I know enough French now to know that the title translates to “Tragic wedding”. And given that this is after all Quebec music, a cousin of Celtic, wherein two of the major song topics ARE after all Sex and Death, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that this song’s probably got a rather dire story. I need to see the lyrics to see what that story is, though!

Here’s a video of them doing it from Celtic Connections in January, so you can get an idea of what it sounds like!

Anyway, after that, we got “Mamzelle Kennedy” as a palette cleanser. Delightful instrumental from the album La part du feu, and, see previous commentary re: bouzouki. Nice strong bouzouki line in this one, as I believe I’ve said before!

The boys then went into a longer intro to explain that they did indeed have a new album on the way–and how their previous Tromper le temps tour had gotten very comfortable for them, like old slippers! But now they would be trying a bunch of new things for us, and we’d be their guinea pigs, if that’d be okay! (“And if it’s not, we’ll do it anyway,” joked Nico. Unsurprisingly, no one objected!)

This led into introducing the next new song, “Confédération”. (Which Le Vent has up on their YouTube channel here!) Nico told us this one asks the question of how old Canada is, really–and I’ll be very interested to see the lyrics on this. I didn’t have quite enough French to follow the chorus, but I did get the sense that it was asking why the Francophones aren’t being counted. (Later, when I told my friend Geri about this one, she opined that this’ll probably go over REAL well in Ontario. 😉 I learn so many amusing things about Canadian politics by listening to this band, I tell ya.)

I like this one quite a bit, musically. Nicolas has very deft vocals here, crisply yet nimbly sung–he’s very good at that. I continue to be impressed by how this man can throw a burst of syllables like stars into a single line of song.

But the next new one came after that, and oh my god you guys. “Papineau”. Which you can hear, along with another performance of “Confédération” and the new instrumental “Petit rêve IX” (more on this below) here. Jesus hopping Christ on a pogo stick. What that video doesn’t really quite properly capture if you’re listening to it on earbuds is the sheer multi-layered awesomeness of this track–how Olivier unleashed low notes I did not know he could do, and how Réjean backed up Nico’s lead fire with his own very strong middle harmony. And the interweaving of actual sung lyrics with the mouth music was just a delight to my ears. If you like these boys at all you really need to hear them do this live because I mean damn.

This is very possibly my brand new favorite Le Vent du Nord song and I don’t even have the album yet. Suffice to say I’ll be slapping five stars on this thing the instant it hits my iTunes. I need this track. I NEED IT NOW. As I pretty much said to Dara when I turned to her after this song was done. 😀

Because let me be clear–turluttes, as I’ve said before, are one of the biggest things I love about Quebec music. They hit me on a very fundamental level, with the whole idea of “I don’t have an instrument handy to do this reel so screw it, I’m going to sing the reel instead and BE the instrument”. I love that. It speaks to me. Le Vent doesn’t do them often, and to hear what they can do with them when they get creative like this… wow.

ANYWAY. After that, on to another instrumental! Which I think was “Le cœur en trois” but I don’t know for sure since I didn’t actually get to sneak a peek at the set list!

Then another long intro–one which, as soon as Nicolas started on his spiel about how New France was a paradise until the British showed up (lol), I knew was leading into “Lettre à Durham”. I.e., Nico’s “We’re French, fuck you, strong letter to follow” song. As always François got up to take over the bass on this one, temporarily turning the band into a quintet. And let it be said: if your sound engineer is just that badassed that he can abandon his post for a song and come up and actually play with you, you have a damn fine sound engineer. For that matter, François is also an excellent bass player!

Two more familiar songs after that–Olivier commanding the intro and outro for “Octobre 1837”, like he does. And then Simon encouraging us all to do the callbacks on “Lanlaire”! And teasing us for sounding “shy and cute” on our first try, and to try it again with “Quebec energy”. As always, I happily jumped in on the responses on this. And not just the bits that go “Va te faire Lanlaire, va te faire Lonla”, either, since I actually sorta kinda know this song!

Then: set break! At which point I FINALLY saw Dejah and Devon coming in. They’d gotten lost on the way up to the show. AUGH. But they did at least make it for the second set, so the night wasn’t a total wash for them!

And when we came back, we started off with another brand new one: an instrumental out of Olivier. Given my abiding love for “Manteau d’hiver”, “new instrumental from Olivier” is definitely a phrase guaranteed to get my attention. And I could feel my brain already leaping on this, trying to parse it and see if I can maybe learn the two jigs and the reel by ear. I didn’t catch the title properly in French, but Olo asked the audience how to translate it, and the answer that came back to him was “Between sky and earth”. Very much looking forward to hearing this on the new album.

Also very worthy of comment: Simon over there on guitar during this instrumental did some delicious-sounding finger work that I have exactly NO prayers of emulating any time soon. But it’s good for a girl to have goals, and “sounding like Simon on guitar” ranks pretty high up on my list. 😀

Back into familiar territory next–and Nico unleashing the kraken hurdy-gurdy, with another splendid metal-style solo that led into “Les amants du Saint-Laurent”.

And then right back around to new territory! And speaking of the guitar: Olivier put down the fiddle and picked up Simon’s guitar, and well, damn son! Speaking of noises I’m not making on the guitar any time soon.

Réjean threw in a joke about “Olivier Demers on the fiddle” at this point, acknowledging that this is NOT standard practice for Monsieur Rocketfeet. And what Olo produced at that point was this lovely, liquid thing that you can also hear in that BBC video I linked to up higher in the post–demonstrating to splendid effect that he’s very capable of playing more things than just the violin, indeed. Because “Petit rêve IX” was lovely, and a worthy new addition to the whole “Petit rêve” series of instrumentals across Le Vent’s discography.

It led into another new song sung by Simon, too–which, if I caught the title correctly, was called “Pauvre enfant”, “poor child”. Not quite as dire-sounding a title as “Tragic wedding”. But still, Le Vent does seem to be following the theme of “give Simon the sad songs to sing, and the love songs too”–the same wise course that De Temps Antan follows with his brother. I approve of this policy as a matter of course.

From that point on we were done with the new stuff, so we headed back with “Le retour du fils soldat”. Every time I hear them do this one live, it hits me right in the chest. And after hearing “Papineau” earlier in the show, I was able to listen to this with a new ear as well–because I’ve been trying to figure out for some time who sang the low line in this. I’d been thinking it was Réjean all this time. And now I’m thinking I was wrong and it was Olivier. Not quite low enough to be bass, not to the earth-rumbling low notes Murray Foster can produce, but some respectably and quite deliciously low baritone, enough to ground the wonderful four-part harmony in this song.

Onward then to “Toujour amants” from Tromper le temps! Which, as Réjean helpfully informed us, translates to English as “Toujour amants”. And Réjean was in wry humor on the way out of the song as well. He pointed out how “Retour” is a sad-sounding song that’s actually happy, and “Toujours” is a happy-sounding song that’s actually sad.

“Quebecers are complicated,” put in Nico.

“That’s why I’m so curly!” said Réjean–to the amusement and bemusement of audience and band alike, as Nico proceeded to give him this “did you really just say” look. “We won’t keep that for the next show,” the band decided. It’s true, though: Réjean IS very curly! And they may not preserve that bit of banter for shows, but I’m preserving it for posterity here. (HI RÉJEAN!)

“La soirée du hockey” is always a joy, and for this, I actually finally got up out of my seat. Several folks had been taking advantage of the small dancing area in front of the stage, but I’d stayed sitting down for most of the show, preserving my strength. (I still wasn’t entirely over the cold!) But the boys warned us at this point that they had only two songs left, and I was pretty damn sure they were going to close with “Au bord de la fontaine”. And there was NO WAY I was staying sitting down for that.

Nor was I disappointed! The dancing area filled up fast for the last couple of songs, and I wound up quite happily by the stage, more or less at Stage Simon. I was surrounded by some of the younger members of the audience, too–children who were clearly having a fun time, and it was great to see a younger generation of fans at the show too!

Very, VERY satisfying to be able to get some GBS-style Vertical Movement going on “Au bord de la fontaine”. And I note with pride that I was not in fact the only person in the audience capable of singing back “Pierre mon ami Pierre la belle ma dondaine” back at Nico when he prompted us. We did it twice, in fact, and he seemed surprised and pleased that we actually sang on cue. GO US!

And then the obligatory encore! Réjean finally getting to take the lead with “La piastre des États”. Another instrumental set! And last but definitely not least, and specifically because it was the night before Valentine’s Day, “Écris-moi”. We were all encouraged to grab somebody to waltz with. So of course I had to beckon for Dara to come up and slowly twirl around with me while I sang, which was also very satisfying. I’m pretty sure Nicolas spotted us and grinned our way, too. <3

Afterwards there was the obligatory “hang out and see how many members of the band I can say hi to” part of the shenanigans. This time around though I had a very particular goal. I wanted to show Olivier the copy of Bone Walker I was going to give to Ginny, because, well, he’s in the dedication, along with André Brunet. Because people who give me music or who teach me music get books dedicated to them. It’s a RULE.

And Olivier lit up, which was exactly why I wanted to tell him that to his face. And he even bought the book. <3

And we got to say hi to Nico AND Réjean and even François, and much chatting was done with Dejah and Devon and Gary and Ginny and Michelle. I’ll be seeing Michelle again at Alan Doyle’s solo show in Seattle. And I hope to feature Gary’s next book soon on Boosting the Signal, because he is ALSO an author!

All in all a beautiful evening. And you may all rest assured, Internets, that I will have a lot to say about the new Le Vent du Nord album when it arrives in just a few more weeks!

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