The big event this weekend was HRH’s birthday on Saturday, which unfortunately started out rather roughly with all three of us prickly and getting on one another’s nerves. Things were better by mid-afternoon, though. I made a double chocolate cake while the boy had his nap, and was making the frosting for it when he woke up. Much was the excitement and many were the offers to help, and requests to eat it, but we told him the cake had to wait until his grandparents showed up for the brief birthday party-in-passing that was to happen. So when they pulled up just before five, the boy ran to the front door yelling, “Grandma, Papa! We have cake!”
To save him from bursting with the anticipation we put the candles on the cake, lit them, and sang to HRH as soon as everyone had divested themselves of coats and bags. Liam helped him blow out the candles, of course. The boy was the only one who ate a sliver of cake, as the rest of us knew we were too close to dinner. Then HRH opened his gift, the twenty-inch flat screen computer monitor that his parents, my parents, and I had conspired to buy him. He was absolutely floored and thrilled to bits when he opened it. We win!
Then we left the boy in the hands of his grandparents and went out. I treated HRH to a lovely dinner at Le Biftheque (prime rib all round, preceded by Canadian smoked salmon, mmm), and then to the Jorane concert in our borough. I felt mildly odd about taking HRH to a concert given by a musician of whom I’m the primary fan, but he insisted that it was fine.
Jorane is a Quebecoise singer and cellist. I’ve been trying to see her live since I discovered her in mid-2004. With the launch of her latest album in the fall of 2007 she’s been doing a series of small concerts in and around Montreal, and I was determined to get to one of them. I was concerned that this show might be cancelled because when I bought tickets three days before the date, less than half the house had been sold. It wasn’t, of course, and I think the small audience was one of the keys to the success of the show, which managed to be intimate without being diminished in any way. And it makes sense that she’d expect small audiences; she’s in essence dividing her own audience base by offering so many shows in the same area over a period of three months.
Allow me to say here and now that I finally get it; I completely get the attraction of watching a female cellist playing non-traditional music on stage. My apologies to anyone to whom I ever gave an odd look when they said anything about seeing me on stage.
One cello, two double basses, two sets of percussion… and four people. One of the bassists also played electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and the xylophone. And just those four people on stage created a vibrant, dynamic form of music that rolled over and through the audience. Their presence and awareness and connection to one another was phenomenal. Interestingly enough, what I felt were the most powerful and rocking songs were done by just the three string instruments, tossing lead pizzicato and bowing back and forth. Incredible. And the opening piece was done entirely with foot stomps and hand claps; it may have been based on “Elmita”, or maybe it just had a similar beat and rhythm.
They didn’t play anything the way she’d recorded it, which really impressed me. Every single song was stretched, folded, reinterpreted to such an extent that sometimes it took me a few bars or longer before I recognized it. As is often the case in live shows, they were mostly sharper, rougher, and more… well… alive than the recorded versions. The back of my mind was making periodic technical notes, too, about how the music was put together. One of the “aha” moments I had was realizing that almost all the time, the cello work was doubled by a double bass, which gives the line an added richness that you can’t get on the cello alone. This explains why I get frustrated when listening to my cello work in an ensemble, and think it sounds thin. Other observations included gawking at her lighting-fast triple-stops flying all over the fingerboard, trying to figure out her strumming method, and trying to identify the percussive stick with which one of the double bassists was playing his upright bass (metal? just a regular tipper?). At one point HRH asked me if I could play my cello standing up like Jorane does, and I found myself discussing the shifted centre of gravity when the end pin is extended that far, the tendency of the instrument to spin when you put pressure on it by bowing or fingering if you’re not bracing it with the legs (which of course she does, in a way, by bending a knee somewhat), and the bad stress on the bottom of the instrument when you do any of the above. I suspect the area around her end pin must be reinforced. I also seem to remember reading somewhere that she uses a particular model of cello that can be replaced, which makes a lot of sense; you’re not going to gig something priceless in that way.
I can’t remember the entire set list, but they played “Ineffable”, “Comme avant”, “Stay”, “The Cave”, and “Pour ton sourire”. The only disappointment (and it’s such a minor one in light of how intensely awesome the night was) was that she didn’t play “Dit-elle”, which is my favourite piece of hers; but of my other favourites they did play “Film III”, “Pour Gabrielle”, and “Battayum”. Naturally a lot of the show was given over to most of the latest album Vers a soi. It’s taken me a while to warm up to this album because it really has a different feel from her earlier work, but hearing it live has helped a lot. Her encore was a song I didn’t recognize (I believe it was a cover), played on acoustic guitar, followed by a fully acoustic version of another song I wasn’t familiar with (possibly from her first album, the only one I don’t own) — and when I say fully acoustic, I mean she and the double bassist took off their pick-ups, pushed away the microphones, and played, which was a daring and confident way to end the show. (And that’s where I heard the familiar thin sound of the cello line… which means the amplification was also altering the sound — in a good way for the music, of course).
It wasn’t just the music that made the night a success. Her presence was riveting. The way she communicated with the audience was terrific, too. She took the time to ground between songs, but never lost her connection to those listening, and never lost the thread of the show as a whole. Her patter was calm and well-delivered, introspective and thought-provoking. It felt like she was taking the time to communicate what moved her about life, what prompted her to write the songs, what made her sing them. Motivation, almost. (If you’re familiar with her live album, all of her spoken communication was very much like the beginning of “Intro”.)
And an aside: I nearly gave HRH a heart attack during the second song of the night by gripping his arm upon seeing a tech run out from stage right to fix a boom mic that was slipping in front of the second bassist, and hissing “That’s Perry!” — Perry being the Sound Guy of Awesome Excellence with whom we worked last May at Clyde’s.
I have forgotten how much I absolutely love live music, especially live music that somehow incorporates my instrument. Two minutes into the show I was wishing that band was actually feasible, because feeling how great everything can be when it works was inspiring.
HRH and I had a wonderful evening together. I have to honestly say that we haven’t been that relaxed together and enjoyed ourselves to that extent in a very, very long time. We spent Valentine’s Day night at home together eating fabulous sushi and watching Stardust, which was a really fantastic evening the likes of which we hadn’t enjoyed in a while too, but it was good to get out together.
ETA: Gah, I see that I didn’t babble on about her use of pedals, or her Zoe Keating-like real-time self-recording of cello lines and layering and looping them via footpedals, too. At one point she had recorded and looped six lines and was soloing over them, along with the two bassists (or one bassist and the other at keyboards? I forget) and the percussionist. Incredible. There was a moment when I wished I wasn’t as principled as I am, so that I could have thought of bringing my MiniDisc recorder and made a bootleg for my own reference.