PARIS – I have no idea how many years it has now been that Nicholas Ullmann has been hosting his Kararocké at the Bus Palladium, but I do believe I discovered it in 2010, and have been going occasionally ever since. I returned on Saturday evening – it runs every first Saturday of the month – to find his institution still alive and more than well. And this, despite the recent sad death due to cancer of the regular bass guitarist of the band, Erik Fostinelli, also known as Guy Pop.
In fact, I believe the Kararocké has been more than a decade that this formula has been working for Ullmann, the master of many disguises and above all, master MC. (Master master of ceremonies!!??) That the formula works is no surprise: It is a super karaoke, with a live band on a large stage in a large room with great sound, spotlights, and just absolutely everything to make the spectators that get on stage feel as if they are rock stars for a night.
On Saturday night, it was the turn of Yann Destal, known for his hit song, Lady (Hear Me Tonight), which was a worldwide success in 2000 when he was just 20 years old and in his band then called Modjo. Yann continues a strong musical career, but one that is out of the limelight compared to the days of early success. He plays around Paris all the time, and recently even starred in a musical about Woodstock.
I myself did not even try to get on stage, for two or three reasons: 1) I am usually crap at doing Karaoke because when I play and sing cover songs, I usually do it with my guitar in my hands, and I do it my own way, (they call this “interpretation,” but I prefer to think of it as making felicitous mistakes when it works, as I inevitably try to imitate the real thing but fail); 2) I did sing once with success at this kararocké, when somehow the band played “What’s Up” in my key, but I made a horrible failure of singing an Arthur H. song just a few weeks later, as it was neither in my key, nor a style I can do!, and 3), in fact, I was wearing my contact lenses and cannot read with them, so I’d have to know all the lyrics by heart! Oh there was another reason too: Ullmann, in his fair way, was asking all night long only for singers who had never before sung at the kararocké. And I did not fit that category, obviously.
This was a beautifully chosen song for the night, because it was written in protest and disbelief of the horrible American politics of the day…plus ça change….
But it was well worth the night. On the less good nights of this formula the music has tended to be too much hard rock. But on Saturday there was a broad, broad cross-section of sounds. I regretted enormously not having brought my Zoom recorder in order to get great sound, as we have to settle for the terrible sound of my Galaxy S8….
PARIS – This evening is a few days old, but I had to put something up. I’m at that ketchup moment of my life at the end of the year following an absolutely insane travel schedule – Paris Austin Austin Sao Paulo Sao Paul New York New York Paris – and DID DID DID get an open mic in under my belt last Thursday. But due to no time because of end of the year ketchup, no time to do anything proper on this blog.
If you have read this far, then please note, I did a great open mic at the Tennessee Bar on Thursday night and, then I went to the Reception #2 at the restaurant of the Bus Palladium to hear and see and feel the wild and crazy show of Charles-Baptiste Chanteur and his guests.
During this period of time, I was sort of filmed myself during my little moment in the open mic.
And now it is time to run off to do another, before I catch up (ketchup) on this blog and get back to the essentials (my page devoted to open mics in Austin, for example, or those in Sao Paulo, Toronto, NYC, Istanbul and elsewhere).
In France we are in the middle of the first set of weeks in which public holidays divide the week in half. The 1 May and 8 May are public holidays – a kind of labor day on the 1st and the Victory of WWII on the 8th – and in France that means that a large percentage of the population will created what they call a “bridge,” or a “pony,” of days off between the weekend and the middle of the week. The and what THAT means is that for these two weeks there are hardly any people in Paris. And what THAT means is that the Kararocké organizers may well have been worried that there would not be many people there on Saturday for the once-a-month giant karaoke with the live band. So was that the reason that Nicolas Ullmann, the MC, decided to announce that Pete Doherty would sing a song or two before the kararocké?
Many of the regular clients of the Bus Palladium will by now know that the artistic director of the venue is acting as manager for Peter Doherty, the British rock star of the former Libertines and Babyshambles, who lives in Paris. So maybe, just maybe, Ullmann thought that would attract people during a potential down period. On the other hand, as many of the clients to his great Kararocké know, Ullmann is the master of disguise, and he dress up as a different character for each show. This time, guess what? The character, it seems, was Pete Doherty!
And it was Ullmann doing the impersonation…. Doherty has recently played at the Bus Palladium, and even in small cafés in the neighborhood, so it would not have been unreasonable to expect him to show. But the game was Ullmann’s this time, and I don’t have any idea at all if it actually worked, but what I can say is that the crowd was its usual size and enthusiasm on Saturday night, and Ullmann put on another great show.
I was surprised at how many people were there. But I also know that a lot of the people who showed up came to see the basically unknown band that opened for the Kararocké, the band called, Velvet Veins. I went specifically to see them – although my interest was piqued by the idea of a Doherty intervention – as the Velvet Veins is the new band of my sometime lead guitarist Félix Beguin, with whom I have played many times, and recorded a couple songs too. He met his new band in the studio where he works, just outside Paris. The Velvet Veins, for their part, did NOT let down.
Arriving back in Paris after 40 hours of travel from the south of South Korea, I got home to find my Internet broken down. So this means I have no Internet at home until Monday morning, and I head off again to India and Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. So there will be a short interruption in this blog, unfortunately. I am writing this after a day at the office, at the office…. But lack of Internet does not mean a lack of music and a lack of musical adventures. Last night I attended three venues in Paris, a new one, a recent one and an old one….
The first was a new open mic that takes place on the first and third Thursday of the month. I wish I had more time to write about all of these places, but I don’t. This new open mic takes place at a very cool bar called the Kolok, near the Bourse, not far from the Truskel. I found a very neat, young, with-it audience and the wonderful musician MC named Romain. I found good beer, a warm environment, a couple of mics, great service – and quite a loud audience….
I will give more information about the Kolok as soon as I have tried it again or got a better Internet connection.
From there I went over to the Orphee, which I have written about a couple of times recently on this blog. But this time I was hugely disappointed as the owner or manager of the bar insisted that I pay 10 euros to enter this place in order to entertain the large of audience of people who had shown up for the open mic. There are very, very few circumstances in which I will pay money in order to play my music, when I know I am bringing in people to listen to the music, and when I am also buying drinks for myself. After some discussion it was clear the man was not nice and not smart and not worth it. So I left.
I remembered that across the street at the every and endlessly genial Bus Palladium, I had a friend who was taking part in the musical talent “trampoline” event last night. So I decided to go in and give him my support. It turned out that he was not the only member of the talented bunch of musicians whom I knew. There was the band JFK, whom I ran into almost four years ago at the Truskel and/or Mecano. And it also turned out that I knew some of the judges of the competition, the band Gush. Gush is extraordinary, and if they had done the competition themselves, they would have won. So they were well chosen judges.
As it turned out, Rimed – the tapping guitarist – came in an equal second in the competition. Unfortunately, by the time the eventual winners played their set, I had run out of batteries on my recording device. So nothing to show here.
Because of another really important commitment, I ended up seeing only half of the Toxic Kiss concert AND half of the Burnin’ Jacks concert at the Bus Palladium. Actually, I had planned it so that I would see all but one or two songs of the Burnin’ Jacks, but the Bus Palladium security guard had to impose the rules: Anyone leaving the Bus Palladium would NOT return. So I left halfway through the concert.
Because of that, I will not pretend that I saw everything. But of what I saw, it was great. Toxic Kiss was really interesting, and they are a very vital and cool French band – I did not really notice how strong the French accent was when I was there, but you pick it up in the videos. No problem, it is interesting and inventive music and great stage presence. At one point the woman singer of the group left the stage and took up position in the back of the crowd and danced… no one seemed to notice – I caught a few seconds on my recorder. It was very cool.
The Burnin’ Jacks, so what if I don’t say much this time. I have written extensively about them on this blog, and in exactly the same was last night as in the past, they just get better and better. I keep trying to figure out how they keep getting better. Suddenly today I remembered that they spent a few weeks or so performing in Berlin over the summer, and I bet that experience must have had a big effect on the band. Check ’em out if you get a chance.
It was a huge contrast last night as I visited two great venues in Pigalle to see two completely different kinds of shows. I ended up feeling that my expectations of each had been reversed: The burlesque woman’s monologue was the brainy thing, and the Kararocké was the brainless thing. Both had their place and made for a great evening, since brainlessness is a great counter reaction to braininess.
Having said that, the thing that also surprised me was that here I was watching a one-woman-show that has a burlesque element to it – she is sexy as hell and has some moments of strip tease – but most of the laughter I heard around me came from the women in the audience. This was a one-woman comedy, burlesque that has sex as one of the main themes, but which is speaking very directly to women. Oh, it is also very camp, and can clearly please men who like camp, too. Having said that, Louise can transfix men who don’t like camp as well, just by being there.
As an American in Paris entertaining the French in their language with witty playfulness and issues that women think about, but at the same time appearing like a sexy burlesque, I had to think where Louise could fit into any kind of tradition. Could we call her a white Josephine Baker? Probably best just to call her Louise de Ville.
Oh, as it turns out, that entire mixture of things I just spoke about with Louise are very clearly fixed in her knowledge of herself and her approach. Here are words I just found on Louise de Ville’s web site today about herself:
“I may look like it, but I’m not your average burlesque girl,” she writes. “I love glitter and feathers as much as the next girl, but I love feminism even more! I’ m a beauty with brains and I’m not afraid of showing off either.”
So after that show I saw I still had time to go to the monthly Kararocké at the Bus Palladium. It was more densely populated than at any time I have seen it in the last six months. A massive success, and a wild, wild time. I rinsed out my brain with the music and then took a nice brisk 5.5 kilometer walk back home through the rain and rinsed off my body.
I was just noting yesterday how open mics that occur only once per month are generally not so successful, often forgotten, and would do better to be every week. I also remarked how happy an evening it turned out to be at the Truskel open mic for me on Friday, that open mic that happens once per month but is now closing for a long, long summer break…. Last night I went to one of my favorite open mics, which, in fact, is a live karaoke, with a live band and a set-list you choose your songs from, the wonderful Kararocké at the Bus Palladium. And guess what? I concluded that some open mics are better off happening only once per month….
I just cannot imagine either the spectators or Nicolas Ullmann, the genial host of the show – and inventor of the concept – going through that every week. It is so high energy, such a blow out of a party of an open mic, and Ullmann puts to much into it – creating elaborate costumes for every show – that I think everyone would wind up having to take the work week to recuperate after each show. It would eventually drag you down and out and a visit to a sanitarium would be called for.
I have loved every visit to the show in recent months. Especially the night I sang “What’s Up!” in early October. For the last two times I have been there, I have somewhat timidly put my name into the bucket with the request to sing “Wicked Game,” and each time I was somehow over-looked and not called up to sing. Probably that had to do with Nicolas’s huge efforts to give new people a chance every week, and not just put up the same people all the time.
But part of me thinks it may have to do with the fact that if I did get a chance to do that song, it would be the most downbeat, slowest, heaviest and most quiet number of the whole evening. And I wondered if maybe Nicolas found that too depressing for the formula.
Having said that, last night I found myself so incredibly swamped by the upbeat madness of the songs sung – not all, but the accumulation of them had that effect – that oddly, for the first time since I started going to this mad show, I started feel withdrawn through sensory overload. Hey, let’s have a few quiet and low numbers to tone things down and bring people to earth a little.
No, this is not just sour-grapes for not being selected. In fact, each month I get scared shitless about going up on that stage to sing, and when the evening passes and I find my name has not been drawn from the bucket, I sigh great relief and say, “Phew!!! I won’t have to face the situation – but I had the courage to try!!!”
Anyway, the evening is so successful that whatever may be my opinion, I’m sure Ullmann knows what’s he is doing. I think at one point last night I felt it was the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at the Kararocké….
Had to force myself out last night in the extreme cold of Paris, with the lingering cold in my head, but force myself I did, since I knew it was the once-a-month Kararocké at the Bus Palladium. I said to myself that there was little chance I’d sing, thanks mostly to my cold. But I didn’t really want to miss the Kararocké and see what I might discover this time – there’s always something new to discover…singers, an approach to the show, craziness. Whatever. So I was really, really saying to myself in the early stages of the show, “Crap, what the hell is this? This is NOT so cool as usual.” And then, suddenly, like some kind of electric shock suddenly shot through the Bus Palladium, the Kararocké woke up and the room filled with life, and discoveries.
The first electric shock came in the form of a Filipino singer of a certain age, who called himself either “Bond Jovi,” or “Bong Jovi.” He went up and took his time to get ready, then he went absolutely nuts on a Queen song, and he drove the crowd into frenetic madness at the joy of the situation. So crazy went the crowd, in fact, that for the first time in my experience, I watched them chant for an encore from Bong Jovi. I managed to catch that on video, as well as his first song. Crazy stuff. I was pretty surprised when I discovered later in the day that this man’s face showed up on my Facebook this morning, and I realized that I had Mr. Bong Jovi – under his real name – as a friend on my Facebook, and that he had recently asked me where he could find a place to sing in Paris!!!!!
Well, that was the first electric shock. The second was another guy on my Facebook, but who actually is a lot closer than just a Facebook buddy. Nicolas Ullmann, the MC, announced that Félix Beguin would make his singing debut. Félix has often played lead guitar at the Kararocké, but more importantly for me, he and I have played together live and in some of my recordings, for the last three years. I love Félix’s guitar playing, and lately he had sent me some really great recordings he had done of him singing nice soft stuff like Paul Simon. And he had actually played some nice quiet soft stuff that he sang at my brunch at the Mecano bar last year, where he had, if I recall that particular day, a fabulous audience of three….
So I, and just about everyone else who knows him, was last night shocked to find him rock the Bus right down to the ground with his interpretation of the French rock song Antisocial from the band Trust. In short, Félix went crazy, and he injected the room with real rock ‘n roll for the first time last night. And his showmanship was sublime as well, as he got the audience to participate. I’m wondering how much longer I will have Félix playing lead for me before he ends up in too high demand elsewhere. His regular group, the Burnin’ Jacks is moving on up, but Félix has recently also let me hear some tracks from a new band he is putting together that is…burnin’ like hell too….
There were some other cool acts as well; I loved the duo with the singer guy and his wicked woman bass player doing a Stones number.
It was actually the day before that – Friday – where I had some equally strong emotions as I returned to play in the open mic of the Truskel bar for the first time in more than two years, I think. The Truskel was the last place that Earle’s open mic was a real success, and it was rockin’. (I played there a few times with Félix, in fact.) In recent months the Truskel decided to relaunch an open mic, although only once a month, and on Fridays, not Mondays. I finally got the chance to go on Friday, and it was amazing to play on that stage again.
And I was lucky there were not that many bands, as the open mic, in fact, lasts only from 8 PM to just after 10 PM, and I was late in arriving. But I managed to play around five or six songs, and I even had one of the other musicians – from Watermelon Man – come up and sing with me on “What’s Up!” I had wondered how the Truskel could do an open mic on a Friday, as this joint is so full on Fridays you can barely get in. But I realized that in running the open mic early, they are getting more people in earlier, as most of the business starts around 10 PM or later, and goes all night. Worth the visit!
But to come full circle, I must say that I had to force myself out of the house on both nights because of the cold and the cold (head cold), and on each occasion, I found myself returning home absolutely delighted at having forced myself. And there’s a lesson there somewhere…. but crap, it’s cold again tonight…..
PS, I almost forgot the nice little concert at the Bus Palladium by Gaspard Royant. I enjoyed his story about a crazy murder that happened near his childhood home and about which he wrote a song, one of the videos herewith….
So there was a little bit of everything, and this time everyone who performed received a present and there was a draw as well – including one woman with size 39 shoes winning some nice size 39 running shoes…
If this all sounds a little paltry and sort of not very hip as a critique of one of my favorite monthly open music nights in Paris, that is probably because it is the night before Christmas for me too, and I have yet to wrap a load of presents, and take care of various other Christmas and personal matters – like going for a spin on the unicycle – and so I am just winding up about three days worth of Christmas preparations by this very quick look at the Bus Palladium kararocké, which now prefer to leave to the videos to give the true idea of what it was all about….
Oh, check out the young rocker guy dressed in silver – not sure about his voice, but he sure had the attitude… and boy did he ever remind me of Nazi Dog in the Viletones from the concert I saw of them in 1977!!! (Minus the razor blades, and when this one gave a beer bottle to someone in the audience it was gently and with a thank you gesture, rather than breaking it and throwing the pieces at the audience and then cutting himself up – how times have changed….)
I wrote about Nicolas Ullmann’s Kararocké last month. That night, as it turns out, was a typical one at the Kararocké at the Bus Palladium. Last night was anything but typical, although it was, at the base of it, the same stupendous, Hollywood Kararocké as usual. But this time, the twist was enormous: They were filming a television show before and during the Kararocké. And how can I say it without sounding like I’m blowing my own horn – they invited me to make a cameo appearance on the show, as if singing in the Kararocké…. I was invited, it seems, based on my appearance at the previous Kararocké, singing “What’s Up!”.
I know how I can make it sound like I’m not blowing my own horn: By starting off by saying, crap, I could have done SOOOOOOO much better during my cameo appearance. But of that, I will say more in a moment. The fact was, after careful reflection after my performance – and after pulling out the remainder of my hair in the bald spot on top of my head – I realized that I had had an exceptional evening at the Ullmann Kararocké, and so, I could see, had most of the hundreds of spectators who showed up to watch the show AND play as extras in the TV segment that was being recorded.
Last month I mentioned that Arthur H, the French rock star, had shown up and sung in the Kararocké. This time, Arthur H brought a retinue of people and actually filmed a segment of a short film for the French national pay TV channel Canal +. From what I could make out in the evening’s filming, Nicolas Ullmann plays a karaoké presenter named “Eddie,” and Arthur H plays the world champion of karaoké, Gaspard Gaspaccio, who is Eddie’s best friend. But he’s a little bit of an eccentric champ, this Gaspard, a little moody, a little bit in his own world, and a little bit, “I’ll sing when I feel like it….”
It was a real pleasure to see the ambience of a television recording going on, as I recalled such things from my youth, and it was an even bigger pleasure to have been invited to take part in the film. I was part of a medley in which three couples – I was paired with Céline Perrier – were invited to learn to sing three Arthur H songs from his latest album, “Baba Love,” released last month. We were filmed onstage during the real Kararocké in front of the real live audience.
But that, for me, was not the high point of the evening, although it was a fantastic culmination. My disappointment, let me say, was simply that although I spent several days listening to and preparing the song, which is about Jean-Michel Basquiat, I only managed to do a short segment in French, where the spot I could really have shown off with and brought something to the table, to the spectators, was the English part of the song. This was written by the well-known Slam artist, Saul Williams, who does a major contribution to the Arthur H record. I loved the lines, the feel, the sound, but as it turned out, the medley had to be cut to a very limited length, as there were three songs to cover, and so I did not get to that rap….
Having said that, the evening was fabulous for me for having met and worked with the delightful Céline, and for having met the director, Joseph Cahill, who is a young American film director living in Paris who has a very interesting career for the moment, and for speaking to Ullmann for the first time to any great extent. I introduced myself to Cahill at what I perceived to be the first down moment, and we talked for a few minutes, including about my own open mic film. (I had to mention it.) The moment I chose to talk to him, in fact, coincided with when I saw that he was talking to one of his actors in the show. After I spoke to Cahill, I then spoke to this actor, whom I heard spoke English with an American accent. I told him what I was up to, asked him what he was up to – an American musician and actor living in Paris.
“Cool,” I said, before telling him that I had this monumental task that night of singing and reciting this song about Basquiat, with a lyric that was as challenging as a Bob Dylan song to learn – think “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” I then added, “But it’s really good, the English text is by Saul Williams…”
“That’s me,” he said, this actor.
Crap! So it was I ended up having this nice discussion with one of the most famous participants in the Slam movement, and star of the film “Slam.” He advised me on the text: “Don’t worry, it’s more about the sound and the emotion, the explosion,” he said, or something like that. So it’s all right if I fuck it up and change the words? “Yeah, no problem….”
This was turning very sweet. Too bad, in the end, I didn’t get the chance to do it. But that talk with Williams was very cool, and I learned that he found as much or more pleasure in the open mic thing than the pure slam thing. He had grown up doing open mics, singing, and now continues to sing. And of course, act, do poetry and generally create. In addition to acting the lead role in the film Slam, he was also part of the documentary film called SlamNation. And in 1996, he won the title of Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s Grand Slam Champion. I had passed by the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in NYC in August when I did my week of open mics there, but somehow the open mic hour and my schedule did not coincide. Can’t remember why.
In any case, last night the evening was pure delight. But not only for me. The audience was clearly delighted to be part of the ambience, part of the TV show, and the regular Kararocké continued as usual, just cut up with scenes from the film. There were some great singers as usual, like Kristov Leroy, who has put out an EP of songs in English and is now finishing an album in French, and who did a great Bowie rendition. And then there was Syd and Félix from the Burnin’ Jacks doing a Hendrix, and a woman from the Crazy Horse doing a Brigitte Bardot/Gainsbourg, etc. Really quite a unique night out, when you think of it….
PS, I must not leave out that the audience was also treated to a special warm-up act featuring a magician – a kind of drunken magician, who did a cool act with a bird: