Bon Jour, tout mes amis,
Whew! I'm back in NYC and re-adjusting my internal clock...still grinning from the fast-and-frantic first-ever French tour of Les Sans Culottes.
Upon arriving in Paris last Thursday morning, we were met by Bill's friends Olivier and his wife Rosa, at Charles de Gaulle Airport. (Olivier and Rosa are indirectly responsible for the formation of LSC--when Bill visited them in Paris in the mid-1990s, they introduced him to the recordings of Serge Gainsbourg and Jaques Dutronc, which formed much of the band's early repertoire and overall musical gestalt.)
They drove us into Paris, where we met up with Nathalie Petit, whom I had met at an LSC show in NYC the previous month. Nathalie is a big rock fan, and has made it her profession as she works for the French rock magazine, Le Inrockuptibles (or Le Inrock for short). She set us up with places to stay--Audrey, Kathleen and Gina crashed at Nathalie's place, Bill and I stayed at the flat of Stephan Le Carre (a friend of Nathalie's), Gavin stayed with another friend of Nathalie's, and Tom stayed with his brother John, a Paris resident.
We were pretty jet-lagged that first day, but Bill and I decided not to sleep that afternoon--we bought some Ethiopian coffee at a neighborhood supermarket. After a couple of cups of the Ethiopian, we set out for a stroll through Paris. Stephane's place is across the Rue Botzaris from the lovely Buttes Chaumont park, so we started there and then made our way to Notre Dame, then crossed the Seine into the Latin quarter.
While we were in the Latin quarter, Bill got a call on his prepaid cell phone--a journalist from the newspaper in Chalons, anticipating our festival gig there. So Bill gave his first French-language interview, answering the questions as best he could in his jet-lagged state. While we stood outside of a store, a couple of different Parisians walked up to me and asked me questions in French. When I said, "Sorry, I'm American," they said, "Oh, you don't work here?" In some way, I felt encouraged by this...I guess I thought that if Parisians were mistaking me for a local, perhaps the audience that night would be accepting of our band's efforts?
Which, thankfully, is what happened! We played at La Feline, a cool rock dive in the Menilmontant area. Nathalie and Stephane had made some promotional efforts on our behalf--they handed out fliers at various Parisian rock clubs in the weeks leading up to the gig. So, we had a large and enthusiastic audience for the show--the club was so packed that I later found out that some people who wanted to listen to us could not get into the room while we were playing. The crowd responded well to all the songs, and called for an encore at the conclusion of the regular set.
Our new friend Stephane took photos throughout the Feline set--you can see his photos here: http://slekarr.tumblr.com/page/1
In the tumultuous after-gig-party, many people stepped out of the crowded bar and hung out on the street outside. I met lots of cool Parisian rock fans, who had lots of nice things to say about our music, e.g. "We cannot always understand your lyrics, but your songs are very fun." So perhaps the reaction in Paris is not so different from that of America?
Somewhere in the midst of all this, some members of LSC were interviewed by a reporter from BBC Radio, including myself. While my jet-lagged remarks do not appear in the interview, I am musically present...there is an audio clip of our performance of "Sur La Plage," a tune for which I wrote the music. You can hear the story here: http://www.theworld.org/2009/08/04/global-hit-5/
After still more partying back at Nathalie's apartment, Bill and I made our way back to Stephane's apartment, somewhat unsteady on our feet but filled with joy.
After about twelve hours' sleep, Bill and I rose in the late afternoon. Our day commenced in the same way as most of our days there: Ethiopian coffee, followed by a sandwich from a nearby Boulangerie. The jambon blanc et crudites sandwiches I consumed brought me into an entirely new and happy relation with bread. The baguettes of Paris are wonderful. From what I understand, they are baked twice, resulting in a crunchy crust, around a soft middle with lots of air in it. And the French make a point of keeping each loaf on the shelf for only a short time, throwing bread out and replacing it after a few hours, so freshness is guaranteed. Delicious. It has cast some of my NYC diet in an unflattering perspective, but c'est la vie.
After a little more strolling around Paris, it was time to go to our second gig, at L'Opa, in the Bastille area of Paris. L'Opa proved to be a bit more "upscale" in its appearance, much how I would imagine a "cool club in Paris" to look. There were tables in front of the stage, whereas at La Feline there was no stage and no tables. So the audience were not as "in-our-faces" as the previous night, but they were, again, very appreciative of our music, applauding enthusiastically after each number and also once again, calling for an encore. The set list at L'Opa included "Hypermarche," a recent tune of Bill's and mine, which contains some musical homages to Django Reinhardt--I play a guitar introduction based on Django's intro to "When Day Is Done." Olivier mentioned to me afterwards that he enjoyed my interpretation of French musette style--a really nice compliment, esp. considering that Olivier plays bass in a musette band.
Also at L'Opa, we heard a band of three young Parisian fellows called 1900. They were a cool, catchy pop-rock band with garage rock elements--not unlike LSC. Unlike LSC, however, they sang largely in English, which I gather is often the case with French bands of the current generation. So in a way, they were a highly appropriate counterpart for us, perhaps.
To my recollection, we did not party so much after this gig, being pretty tired from the previous one, so after one or two drinks we headed home and got some shut-eye in preparation for Day Three--the BIG ONE: Le 18e F'estival d'ici ed d'ailleurs, Place Foch, Châlons-en-Champagne, France!
Having gained some confidence from our Parisian shows, we set off for Chalons. After a trip on the awesome Train du Grande Vitesse, which made the 200km trip to Chalons in a little over an hour, we arrived in Chalons. We soundchecked on a huge stage in the town square, feeling that this was going to be a really cool show as the onstage sound was excellent. The promoter who brought us over, Jean-Luc, treated us to dinner at a restaurant near the festival stage, where we dined on ostrich(!). It was very good--rather like beef, actually. Tender red meat in a savory brown sauce, a bit like salisbury steak. I enjoyed chatting with Jean-Luc, a very enthusiastic rock fan and promoter, who remarked that LSC "sound[s] like a cross between [Jaques] Dutronc and T-Rex!" (A not-bad couple of artists to be compared to, if I do say so myself.)
We had about 45 minutes after that to hang out in the dressing room, digesting our food and preparing for the show. The dressing room was in a borrowed apartment overlooking the square, so we watched a large crowd gather for our show (Jean-Luc estimated its size at 1,000 people).
We hit shortly after 9pm and played a long set, about an hour and a half. The crowd were, again, very receptive to our songs and stayed for the entire set. And again, we got an encore at the end, which, as at the other shows, was "Shubadubaluba," a classic 1960s Serge Gainsbourg song.
After we walked off, we chatted with many local folks and signed some autographs. Jean-Luc was very pleased with the performance, and suggested the possibility of getting us back over there again sometime (yes, please!!).
Later that night, Gina, Gavin and I bumped into some musicians from another band in town for the festival. We went with them to a little party at a house near our hotel, where I was introduced to some cool folks, and to Pastis, an alcoholic beverage that tasted a bit like licorice.
The next day, we spent some time checking out Chalons--for instance, stopping by the Cathedral of St. Etienne, with lovely stained-glass to rival that of Notre Dame de Paris. We had a bottle of champagne at a local bar, which helped me out a bit--I was a little hung-over from the Pastis the night before.
Then it was back to Paris on the TGV. We had a couple of days to just bum around Paris, so the band usually split up during the day, regrouping at night to party on with our new Parisian friends. Nathalie called a bunch of her friends to come hang out at a bar in the Buttes Chaumont park. We hung out with the Parisians, drinking lots of vin rouge and eating lots of bread with prosciutto. Many Parisians were congratulatory about the election of Barack Obama. Kathleen pulled me onto the dance floor, where a DJ was spinning lots of pop music from the early 1990s. In the setting of a Paris dancefloor, I found myself so caught up in joie de vivre that the music of artists such as George Michael and EMF sounded good to me--a phenomenon I would not have predicted previously!
For the last full day in Paris, Bill and I trekked over to the famous Pere Lechaise cemetary, where we visited the final resting places of such notable personages as Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Honore de Balzac, Stephane Grapelli, Moliere, Guy de Apollinaire, Marcel Proust...and so on. (As Bill remarked--"Everybody says Paris is dead in August...so the obvious thing to do is go to the cemetary, right?")
The band gathered for a meal at Le Jolie Mome, a favorite cafe and bar in Nathalie's neighborhood, where we dined on couscous with mixed vegetables and various meats...a splendid meal washed down with lots of red wine.
And then, suddenly, it was time to return to the US. We bid warm au revoirs to Nathalie and our other new friends and made our way to Charles de Gaulle for the long trip home. We were exhausted, but very happy and infused with a new confidence in our music.
So it's time to roll up our sleeves and set about the work of making our next album. I feel we have some fresh impetus to do so, having just played in front of audiences in France...I sort of feel as if they were the people we were trying to reach all along, without even realizing it. Whatever else the future may hold for LSC...we'll always have Paris!!