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Another Night of Contrasts in Paris – Blues Bar Cafe and Bus Palladium

April 25, 2010

Saturday night in Paris, as with most places around the world, is a crap night for open mics. It’s usually a good night for live music, of course, but I’m mostly interested in finding places to play myself, not sit as an inactive spectator. If I can combine the two of these things, though, I love it. And last night after a big search on the Internet I found that I might have the chance at both.

I found, as mentioned in my previous post, that there was some kind of open mic in Paris near the Place de Clichy, an open mic evening called Resistencias at a place called Blues Bar Cafe. In fact, it was just about three metro stops away from where I live. I also knew by my Facebook connections that the Bus Palladium in Pigalle had a couple of bands starting later on. Since the open mic was early, I thought I could make both venues – and I did.

It turned out that the open mic was the first ever at the bar, and that it had a Mexican theme to it. I went sufficiently early to eat a meal, as they were offering Mexican food. Looking at the size of the bar, I thought the food would be crap. But it was absolutely wonderful, home cooked, beautifully presented, and the main dish cost only 7 euros! But I had first made a visit down to the basement where the open mic was to take place, and this was after 8 PM for an open mic that was listed as starting at 6 PM, and I was the only person present. So I got worried fast.

No matter, I spoke with the people who ran the bar and with the open mic organizer, the stunning Magali. I ate my meal until around after 9 PM when I heard that some musicians had begun to play in the basement. So I went down and took my guitar, as the open mic had begun. It was done under the aegis of an association called, “En bas à gauche,” which means “down and to the left,” and it refers to left-leaning politics, the Mexican resistance, part of the anatomy, all sorts of stuff. I wondered exactly why there was this Mexican theme until I realized that one of the musicians present, and who is linked to the association, was a Mexican.

This was Roberto Arciniega, who plays guitar and sings, and you will see him in the videos below, and you can read his biography on the web site of his band, Bato Loko. Singing along with him as I descended the stairs into the performance area for the first time was another man whose name I did not catch, but who is from Colombia. He was there with his wife or girlfriend, and also present upstairs at first, and later to descend, was a girl I think was Roberto’s daughter. But I never asked.

This, basically, was the full extent of the audience on the first night of the open mic. It may have picked up later, but I am not sure, as I left at around 10:30 to go to the Bus Palladium. I know that when we sang, I heard applause from the upper area, and when I left I saw several old men sitting at the bar, so there did seem to be an audience. But it might have grown later on, as when I left a couple of young French guys in their early twenties came running in, anxiously, saying, “Is the concert over?”

I listened to about an hour or so of Roberto and the Colombian, and I played twice, a few cover songs and a couple of my own songs, including “Except Her Heart,” which felt very bald and empty without Félix’s arrangement.

The sound system was excellent, and the room was fabulous: Very small and split in two parts, but even those who might sit in the back room would hear the musicians and see them. The stone walls were decorated with rock, blues and jazz greats – you can make out the photo of Ray Charles next to the playing area – and there was a huge painting on the wall behind the mics. The people were friendly, open, and Roberto joined me on the maracas during a couple of my songs.

Still, it is difficult to sing for an audience of two or three people you do not know, and I would have been far happier to have found myself in front of the hundreds of spectators that I later found at the Bus Palladium.

I made my way there quickly and easily and I was pleased to be let in the door past the bouncers with my guitar on my back. A lot of places do not like people going in with guitars, and for me that is a test of the authenticity of the joint as a place for musicians. Bus Palladium passed the test. As, of course, it should. This is one of the great venues of Paris, and it is located in the cool area just off the place Pigalle. Nearby bars have music, like one just around the corner with gypsy jazz, but this is a rock venue with a great, large stage, a long bar, an amazing sound system, a big – but not too big – floor area in front of the stage, and just generally a good vibe. Upstairs is a restaurant with another stage area, a small one. The place recently reopened, and it now has a full slate of acts for live music most nights of the week. The show last night did not even require a cover charge.

This friendly attitude was actually at the center of the idea behind this historic venue. Started in September 1965, it began by sending out buses to the kids in the suburbs to bring them in to see the shows, since they didn’t have much money to make the trek into Paris. It quickly became a real center of the rock and pop scene, and even Salvador Dali showed up one night with a bunch of his friends. The reputation grew outside France too, and in addition to performers such as Johnny Hallyday, Eddy Mitchell et les Chaussettes Noires, Julien Clerc, Alain Bashung, CharlElie Couture, Indochine, Etienne Daho, Stephan Eicher, Noir Désir, La Mano Negra and the Rita Mitsouko, it is also famous for the fact that Mick Jagger decided to celebrate one of his birthdays there.

So what of the show last night? Am I still in the post girlfriend blues or what? I found the first band boring, although the leader did a good job of communicating with the audience between songs. This was a French band called Kings Off Cash (and I wonder if they have mispelled that second word), which was clearly together, but the vocals were not so inspired. And I could not help thinking that I just wished I could go up on the stage and do some of my stuff – but there we go, now I’m doing what Hemingway said was not possible for a writer. He said it was not possible to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds; i.e., a writer could not be a writer and a critic. Well, in my life, anything goes – fuck it.

The second band was an American one, a couple of women. It took so long to set up that my already low mood was descending even further. So by the time they came on at around half past midnight, I was ready to split. But I wanted to get some of their stuff on video, and I hoped against hope that I would find an inspiring band that would set me free.

No, mood too crappy again, no doubt. But this band, Talk Normal, that has fronted for Sonic Youth, was a letdown too. Unfortunately, it also had the added problem of playing so loudly that people – including myself – were covering their hands with their ears. It was a blow-out. I feared for my future – my hearing is important. I mean, I don’t want to end up like Pete Townsend!!! Loss of hearing? Who’s Next? Me??? NO way. I got out of the Bus Palladium after a few moments of video recording of Talk Normal. It sounded like a very modern version of some of the early ’70s progressive rock that I used to listen to. But it did not work for me.

Today, however, I decided to look them up and listen to the same piece with a better recording, and I can understand the attraction to this group, which is nevertheless original. You can hear it too, in that link above.

Sunday night? There’s only one open mic I usually go to on Sundays, and I’ll try it out tonight – oh wait, I sometimes manage to do two on Sundays. I’ll see what happens.

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