Thursday, November 30, 2006

Robert Charlebois LIVE!

Robert Charlebois LIVE!
Bell Centre, Montreal
November 24, 2006

This concert was a bit of trip for me, for a lot of reasons. As a record collector, Charlebois represents a type of obscure regional artist that I end up thinking of as a hidden gem; a secret. So, obviously, it was a trip to see him at the Bell Centre (where the Montreal Canadians play, basically as the Fleet Centre is to the Boston Garden, the Bell Centre is to the Montreal Forum: the new area, that for better or worse attempts to replace a piece of history), among thousands of Quebecois. I know when people say “I was the only white person there”, it is usually some bullshit exaggeration designed to build up the narrator, but in this case, I am guessing I was really the only person there who could barely order a beer in French. The crowd was dancing, yelling, and shouting along with some songs, clapping at the breaks of others, flicking lighters at the ballads, etc, etc… This was these people’s shit, the music they’ve drank a thousand beers to. I almost felt like an intruder, except that I enjoyed myself so much,

The show started with Charlebois strumming an acoustic guitar on a platform at center ice, in the middle of the standing room section. He opened with “c’est pour ca”, a tripped out folk song, from his self titled album on Gamma from 1967, his 3rd LP altogether. I’d love to compare it to Dylan or Leonard Cohen or Syd Barrett or Skip Spence, but although it shares elements of all the above, I can’t really say it resembles any of them. Anyways, I was immediately happy, as I both knew and loved this song, thus alleviating my two fears; One, that I wouldn’t know most of the material, Two, that most of the stuff would be commercial 70’s and 80’s dreck, ignoring his freak-out 60’s stuff (sort of like if you had no knowledge of American music and went to go see Bob Seger because you were a big fan of “2+2=?”, “Heavy Music”, and his other late 60’s gems and ended up hearing “Against the Wind” and “Old Time Rock and Roll” and other car commercial piles of shit…). His second song was also from his Gamma debut, which really put me at ease. I couldn’t believe this guy had such balls. I can’t think of many performers of his generation who would open with two 40 year old songs unless they were playing a Norton records show.

Amazingly, the audience was with him the whole way, including the 7 wifeys on the town who were seated in the row in front of me. He was going from folk songs to straight rock to Cajun flavored folk stuff to psych rock to soul pastiches and everyone seemed to stick with it. What I was most impressed with is I am only conversant with his late 60’s LP’s on Gamma and I knew about 33% of the set. He did three songs from his self titled album with Louise Forestier, (called by some “the Quebecois ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’”) including the breakthrough single “Lindbergh” (big sing along number), as well as “California” (which featured multiple spinning disco balls all over the stage, as well as a conga player for that funk!) and “Engagement” (the song I had been waiting all night for; his weirdest, nastiest, funkiest, and freakiest), which he turned into a James Brown style talking rap as he introduced the band.

Charlebois paced the stage in a sequined Montreal Canadians hockey sweater and was a great performer, acting out his songs with a sense of theatre, with the best part either being when he acting out a lover’s embrace (by putting his back to the crowd and wrapping his arms around himself so that from the audience’s viewpoint they appeared to be those of an unseen lover) or when he hopped on the drums to accompany his other two drummers in a funky breakdown done a la prog rock (as shown in the photo...)

The whole concert was a highlight for me, with even the unknown 70’s and 80’s stuff sounding solid (and always mixed in with 60’s freakout gems….). During the second encore, I knew it was time for me to leave, as Charlebois broke into “Je reviendrai a Montreal” (a clip from a TV special is available on youtube with a host of Quebecois singers joining in from around the globe, including Celine Dion live from Las Vegas!). As I left, I passed two 60 year olds slow dancing together in the main aisle, staring happily into each other's eyes. To me, this song was pure schlock, but obviously not to these two. Now, what other artist could please such disparate people?