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.
It was the first Saturday of the month again last night, and so I made my way over to the Bus Palladium to check out Nicolas Ullmann’s Kararocké. There are open mics that happen once a month that I forget about because they are only once a month; the Kararocké is one that I never forget about, but rather wait for impatiently. Last night again brought its fun and surprises, and personal thoughts about the crossing of paths through life….
Three years ago at Earle Holmes’s open mic at the Truskel I saw a fabulous group called Gush, and I had a great, wide-ranging conversation with one or two of the musicians about pop and rock music over the generations. These guys, like a few other groups in recent years – Natas Loves You, Fleet Foxes – make use of vocal harmonies and have revived that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sound – among other ’60s groups.
Gush has gone on to have a pretty good career, playing some very interesting and big venues, and they just returned from Japan. So anyway, after half the band appeared on stage last night at the Bus Palladium, I went up to the singer – who had just done a very convincing Stones song – and he immediately recognize me – although he could not remember precisely where or when we had met.
That was cool, but it was not the only such meeting last night, or crossing of paths. There was also, for instance, another of the performers, Sigalit Rossignol, whom I first saw last year sometime at the Anthracite open mic – where singers also sing with backing by a house band – and who I have seen performer nowhere else.
And then there was the star of the previous Kararocké, the riotous man from the Philippines, who calls himself Bong Jovi, and who really milks the crowd – after what appears to have been years’ worth of playing in karaokes around the world.
At least one of the Burnin’ Jacks was there, and a few other familiar faces. So what all of this means, and got me to thinking, was just how the musical world sometimes criss-crosses, blends in, faces resurface, careers grow, fade, and there is a kind of web that develops, and we all gravitate eventually to the same musical poles.
Now, what does all that mean? Fuck all! (But I wanted to see if I could find some kind of theme to write about another Kararocké…. Shaggy dog story? Maybe….)
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….
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:
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!