It was on the evening of the Biblical Flood of 2012 in Toronto, the subway system had been shut down and most people in the city decided to sit this one out. But I wasn’t about to let the rain dampen my spirits, it would only dampen my jacket. There was great music to be seen and heard. I boarded the 5o1 heading east across the Don Valley to the Opera House. After devouring a burger from a joint across the street (as an ignorant West-Ender I didn’t have the confidence to seek out the much touted Burger Priest) I entered the historic Opera House a couple long-hand ticks from 8 PM.
Promptly at the top of the hour Montreal’s Kandle took the stage. The house lights remained half up, I appreciated this as it allowed me to easily see the “genius” and “insightful” comments I was scribbling on my notepad. The center of this outfit is Kandle Osbourne, a 21 year old singer who hails from the west coast originally; supporting the theory that there is a direct cultural pipeline between Montreal and Vancouver Island/The Lower Mainland of BC.
Kandle was backed by four very talented musicians, playing the guitar, drums, bass, keys/banjo. As they broke into their first tune it became blatantly apparent that Kandle has a sensibility and talent that is far beyond her years and experience. Her voice has a range that varies between smooth and smokey, to being able to belt out those hard to reach high-notes. But Kandle’s vocals always serves the song first, never showboating her vocal-ability just for the sake of it. The lyrics and arrangements mesh together perfectly to convey the usual themes of heartbreak, betrayal and revenge, but in a tone that demonstrates a maturity of someone who has lived a full life; this ain’t no bubble-gum pop. This maturity might come from Kandle growing up in a musical family, being a storyteller and a conduit of human emotions is likely second nature for her.
Kandle’s music draws on an eclectic mix of influences; blues, rock, jazz, folk, ect… Call her music what you will, I will call it good music. Although none of Kandle’s music contains a tempo that would be considered “upbeat”, she was still able to get the crowd to move. Heads swayed, hands and feet tapped, and eyes closed as the crowd let the music envelop them. The song “Small”, which utilized a banjo and chains to great effect, made me want to grab the beautiful girl dressed in black beside me and slowly waltz around the Opera House.
“Don’t play with me / because you’re playing with fire“ Kandle ended with a cover of the Rolling Stones “Playing With Fire”, which reinforced two facts; that Kandle is not someone to be taken lightly, and that Montreal loves Mick Jagger. After Kandle left the stage it made complete sense to me that she would be put on a bill with Coeur De Pirate. They are the definition of the much over-used term “chanteuse”, well to be fair Coeur De Pirate would refer to herself no other way; parce que elle est Quebecois.
The house lights went down and the sound of applause went up as Coeur De Pirate took the stage, this was the reason why the packed Opera House had braved the weather. Beatrice Martin entered in a floral dress covering a noticeable baby-bump, she would be singing for two tonight. When I saw the 8 PM start time for the show, I thought it was a bit strange it was so early, but then it all made sense when I saw Martin; I’m sure I wouldn’t want many late nights if I was pregnant. Being a true professional Martin got straight to the business of filling the room with beautiful and sentimental piano-driven pop music. Martin was backed by a stellar band of players who added many layers of texture to the songs.
Since Coeur De Pirate broke onto the scene in 2008, I – like many – have enjoyed listening to Martin’s honey-dipped vocals and flowing melodies. This is despite the fact that she sings en francais, and my brutal french allows me to only understand very little. Coeur De Pirate – which is Martin’s stage name – has enjoyed a lot of popularity in the rest of Canada (The ROC), along with other francophone acts (Malajube, Karkwa) in recent years. This of course is a testament to the, cliche but true, statement; “music is a universal language”. It also points out that Canada’s old mythology of the “two solitudes” is less of a reality than it used to be. Even France, who generally has a tendency to snub their noses at Quebecois culture (even though Quebec generally produces better stuff), embraced Coeur De Pirate as a bonafide pop star as she sold-out huge venues in Paris.
Throughout the show Martin alternated between standing at the front of the stage with just the mic, or sitting down at her piano and punching out melodies on it’s keys. One thing that caught my eye was the lighting work done by Coeur De Pirate’s production team, always on cue and adding to the performance without being distracting. It’s something you don’t always see at your average concert, which are usually lit with terrible LED lights.
Martin displayed a gracious confidence when addressing the crowd in both official languages, the perfect balance of humour and sentimentality. Half-way through her set Martin rushed off stage after a song, leaving her band to entertain by jamming out before returning a couple minutes later. She explained this disappearance later in the show; “When I booked the show I wasn’t 7 months pregnant, now I have to pee for two”.
It wasn’t long before the crowd demanded more music after Coeur De Pirate finished the set, and she graciously obliged. Before going into a sing-a-long version of “Comme Des Enfants” Martin took time to literally thank everyone in the building for helping to put together a great show; “I was so worried that because of the weather no one would show up, thank you so much for coming!” she said to the audience. For her last song she played the very appropriate and upbeat “Adieu”. Even after the last notes were played, the crowd still demanded more. I imagine it will be some time before we have the pleasure of having Coeur De Pirate serenade us in person again.
Back out to the wet streets of Toronto the crowd went. This time they had the company of some great music ringing in their heads to keep them company on the streetcar home. They were also likely contemplating moving to Quebec and learning french, at least I was.