Tonight from 6:30 to 9:00 PM was the third installment of the Lazy Sunday evening concert at the HideOut bar on the Rue du Pot de Fer, just off the Rue Mouffetard. This was the series of Sunday evening concerts that I inaugurated with my show a couple of weeks ago. But it was thanks to Syd Alexander, the singer of the Burnin’ Jacks, that I got that cool gig. Tonight was the third show, and it was…The Burnin’ Jacks. And so naturally, it was the best, crazest, most riotous and successful so far.
There was something very fitting and primitive and sort of retro about seeing the Burnin’ Jacks in a so-called acoustic concert – it was loud enough to blow the eardrums at a close sitting to the speakers, but Félix and Antoine played acoustic guitars (Félix with a vintage Gibson jumbo or something – and the room was crowded with Burnin’ Jacks friends and fans. Syd somehow managed to find the space in this small, cosy, intimate and laid back bar to go crazy on the stage area, amongst the spectators and even on the tables.
I made a few videos of high moments, another good collection to add to the Burnin’ Jack odyssée. Next week the show is by Saibu, a French folk band.
I have attended Nicolas Ullmann’s Kararocké at the Bus Palladium two or three times before, and I have signed my name on the list to sing two or three times before. But last night was the first time Nicolas pulled my name out of the hat. I had come to wonder if it was fake, or what? I mean, there had been so many very cool singers, many from local bands, that I had thought perhaps only those who Nicolas liked got to sing. This is clearly not the case. The Ullmann Kararocké may have all the trimmings of a big rock ‘n roll, almost Hollywood, extravaganza, but down at the bottom of it all is the simple and same formula that you find the world over:
There is a backing band of high calibre, and a list of songs, and anyone who wants to can go up and sing along with the band. It’s one of those “live karaokés.” But Ullmann’s has a twist with all the showbusiness trimmings. Ullmann himself dresses up in a costume each time – like Alice Cooper, a werewolf, or some other bizarre thing -, and he sings a few songs, runs around the room, drinks Jack Daniels and just basically goes mad. It is not much different from the hugely successful “Anti-karaoke” in Barcelona at the Apolo Club, in that it has a good feel of debauchery and costumes are encouraged. But unlike traditional karaoké, with a live band both the singer and the spectators are treated to a much more concert-like situation. And it is a great way for budding singers to try their hand and being in the real music situation….
And although Ullmann’s Kararocké does not always take place only at the Bus Palladium, that is a huge advantage. I have written about the Bus before on this blog – several times – and I have played in the restaurant on the first floor several times. But playing in the main concert hall on the ground floor is just something else. It is a huge stage, high above the spectators, with great lighting, a great sound system, and a packed full house of spectators on the floor below. This is really addictive rock star territory here! And all the top bands in France and elsewhere have played in that room on that stage.
Ullmann’s Kararocké also has special guests of high calibre, which is a cool added attraction. Last night it was the French rock star Arthur H (son of that other rock star, Jacques Higelin, and brother to that other pop star, Izia). Another special guest was Michel Gondry, who was a drummer in the band Oui, Oui, and then went on to become a filmmaker, and has directed all sorts of films including music videos for people like Bjork, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Beck and… dammit, wish I could have done my “Mad World,” because he did the Gary Jules “Mad World” video, Donnie Darko version.
There were not many songs on the list that I figured I could do without learning them or rehearsing. But “What’s Up!” of the Four Non-Blondes was on the list, and I do that one a lot these days, even if I do it at a higher pitch than they do. And I usually screw up the timing at one spot. Anyway, out of the hat came my name, up to the stage I ran, didn’t have enough time to think about being nervous – and had drunk more than a half bottle of wine plus two beers, so hey… – and they started playing and I started singing. It was very strange as there were so many things to take in at the same time while also getting into the song entirely. There was the band, the stage, the lights, the crowd, the room, just the fact of suddenly being up there, not to mention what the fuck to do with my hands and body without my guitar! But I knew my salvation could only be to give everything to song and inhabit it and live it and wail through it all my particular frustrations of the moment. Aside from a momentary screw up in the place I usually screw up the rhythm – “Well I try, oh my God do I try!!!” – I got through it and had no crises, and although I did not feel quite as liberated throughout as I do when playing it myself, I got some good responses from people afterwards.
Not only that, but Nicolas decided to give me a gift – and aside from beers and swigs on beer for other performers, I think I was the only one to receive such a gift. It was a triple DVD of a fabulous French music television show from the late 70s, early 80s that I had read about recently in Rock & Folk magazine. It is archival material of live concerts done specifically for the television show, which was presented by Antoine de Caunes. The show was called Chorus, and the DVD has hours and hours worth of concerts by bands like The Jam, The Stranglers, The Clash, The Police, but also James Brown, Pat Benatar, Link Wray…. It is just a magnificent DVD and as I write these words I am already on Disc 3, having listened to discs 1 and 2 today. (Currently watching John Lee Hooker, whom I saw in concert in Ottawa in around 1973, opening for Gentle Giant!!!)
In addition to all of this excitement – on a night where I had decided I would probably just stay at home! – I also met some friends there, and watched them perform. It turned out the Burnin’ Jacks were there, and Syd performed a song and Félix, my guitarist of the same band, played several songs in the second half of the show as lead guitar player. The most touching was when Antoine went up and started playing Teenage Kicks, which I knew he had seen Earle Holmes sing so many times at the closing of his open mic in Paris where the Burnin’ Jacks got their start. (But I was late getting the video going so only have a fragment of Teenage Kicks.)
What a load of fun that all was for nothing but a karaoké! No, an Ullmann Kararocké!!!
PS, I forgot to mention that the evening was also being videoed by a French television channel – one of the big ones – but I’m not sure why….
PPS, It was also the 46th birthday celebration of the Bus Palladium!
A day after the snow storm with all Paris closed down, I still decided to go out and try my luck at the open mics. I ended up with a back-up plan, too. It turned out that the open mic at Aux Copains bar on the rue Victor Letalle was just up the street from La Feline, the bar where my friend Syd Alexander was planning to celebrate his birthday with friends.
So what could be better than turnin’ up and doing a bit of both things? I assumed Syd’s party would go on all night, but it turned out to be a few drinks only. I assumed more than just a handful of people would turn up for the open mic at the Copains, but it turned out only about five of us made it.
So I had some quick thinking to do. I did a song at the open mic, and I went down the street and invited Syd, and his friends to come to the open mic too. After all, it turned out that Syd’s group, the Burnin’ Jacks, was there to celebrate his birthday. But the atmosphere at the Copains ultimately struck me as not right for the Burnin’ Jacks – it is mostly a spoken word open mic, and there was just another feeling, and so after I played I rushed back to the Feline to find Syd and the gang of about 10 people just about to come and meet me.
“Change of plan,” I said. I proposed to them that we all go up two metro stops away, to Belleville, where I knew there was the blues jam of the Cabaret Culture Rapide. This, I was sure, would be perfect for the Burnin’ Jacks, and for the jamming blues musicians and the audience.
Turned out I was right. The Burnin’ Jacks did four or five songs, got the place really rockin’ and rollin’ and even the Belleville Blues Band looked like it enjoyed the set. Then I played a couple of songs, and later in the evening I did more. The Burnin’ Jacks, I think, had fun, and they got to advertise their upcoming gig next Friday at the Feline….
I, at least, was happy that I could turn around an otherwise potentially boring night after the snow storm when few Parisians dared go out, into something fun and cool.
Wow, just as I was preparing to fly off to China today for the Chinese Grand Prix, just as I was packing my bags, finishing my preview race stories, thinking about blog items and trying to remember things not to forget, I receive a message on Facebook from my friend Félix Beguin.
Félix is a guitar player who is studying sound engineering and who wants to make a career out of music. Since around November 2008 Félix has accompanied me on and off at Earle’s open mic in Paris, giving a lot more depth to my songs with his electric guitar support. A month or two ago I sent Félix a rough recording of me playing a new song called “Except Her Heart,” that I wrote about a failed relationship, in order for him to hear the structure so that the next time we played together at Earle’s he’d have an idea of where the song was going.
In fact, I don’t think we played the song after that. But this morning Félix sent me a WAV file of the song with a complete magnificent arrangement that he worked out for it, with drums, electric piano, his lead guitar, bass, etc. Man, this is the first time I’ve had a piece of my music completely arranged and orchestrated, and the result is inspiring to me. I hope it is also inspiring to other listeners.
Here is the low quality MP3 version of “Except Her Heart,” that will be quicker to listen to:
When you play music in your living room for years and you go out with your guitar and play in open mics, you have to do it first and foremost because you love it. It is often hard to believe in yourself and see beyond the horizon of the microphone that night, or your back garden and your own ears. But with what Félix sent me here today, I have a lot more belief in the possibilities of my songs. A million thanks to Félix, who plays his own music on his myspace, and also plays with a band called The Wasters and also a band called The Burnin’ Jacks, which is a very cool band, I last saw them perform at the Gibus in Paris last month, and they KILLED the audience.
Thanks again Félix! Now I can head off to China and wear out my batteries listening to your arrangement on my long, long flight to Shanghai. I’ll be singing the song there, too, in an open mic, I hope. Stay tuned….