Tuesday, 30 July 2013

olenka and the autumn lovers at divan orange

Olenka & the Autumn Lovers + Gabrielle Papillon  |  Divan Orange

                      PHOTOS  |  JESSE CREATCHMAN

July 24, 2013 - This Wednesday feels like a fall day: it’s crisp and it’s cool and I get goosebumps for the first time all summer. The green leaves and occupied terraces indicate that it is only the third week of July, yet there’s an inexplicable autumn feeling in the air as I walk to Divan Orange. I love fall, and I love the idea of it even more after last week’s disorienting heat wave. I’ve always thought that Olenka and the Autumn Lovers was a great band name, but tonight it seems even more fitting.

Divan Orange is a great place to go see music. Its creaky wooden floors and warm candlelight feel immediately familiar, whether it has been a few hours or a few months since you were last there. The sound might not always be perfect, but who goes to Divan Orange for perfect sound? You go because of the weird wall art; you go because the DJ booth is decked out in both a Hawaiian skirt and red Christmas lights; you go because you can sit at a picnic table, drink a pint, and listen to incredible music all at the same time.

First to take the stage tonight is Jane Ehrhardt, who strums a guitar and sings about joining the circus. Though the music is wistful and Ehrhardt’s smile is persistent, there are dark undertones that sneak into the sound. Even if it’s not your type of music, there’s something open about Ehrhardt’s earnestness that commands your attention.

Gabrielle Papillon is next, performing with three other women who go by the moniker “The Mighty Oak.” Papillon explains, with a grin, that she used to play with a bunch of tall guys and that the name stuck. Vocal harmonies and acoustic instruments balance perfectly with her softly sung lyrics. It’s clear that Papillon can play with words as deftly as her fingers can dance across guitar strings. A self-proclaimed “nerd,” Papillon wrote “Judah on His Knees” because she wanted to write her own version of a Greek tragedy. Accompanying musician Corinna Rose compliments each song with a carefully picked banjo, while Lisa Malachowski’s harmonies envelop Papillon’s lyrics with an extra layer of warmth. Performed by Leah Dolgoy, the autoharp’s dangling notes fit seamlessly with Papillon’s sound. This music doesn’t only warm the stage: it warms the entire room.

Finally, sometime around midnight, Olenka and the Autumn Lovers step onstage. Strangely enough, the last time I saw them was also at Divan Orange when they performed during POP Montreal’s daytime brunch show. You can tell they feel at home in the venue and it’s contagious. This band is as unpretentious as it gets. While many bands have some sort of stage get-up – whether it’s elaborate matching outfits or just carefully selected hats and t-shirts – Olenka and the Autumn Lovers are dressed simply in clothes that almost make them blend in with the curtains. When your music is really good, you don’t need anything else to entertain your audience. 

And their music is good. It’s really good. Folky, with an Eastern European influence, Olenka’s sound is the opposite of sparse. The full-bodied music floods the room, streaming into every crack and corner. Olenka’s voice is deep without being overpowering and it seems to slide out of her mouth without the slightest effort. She lets her music speak for itself, only stopping to talk after several songs. When she does, her stage banter is about the “food-based ritual” she engages in every time she is in Montreal: she lists bagels, squeaky cheese, and smoked meat as things she likes about the city. “And nice people!” Olenka adds as a final item in her catalogue of Montreal favourites. I can’t disagree – these, along with music, all rank high on my own list of Best Of Montreal.

To everyone’s delight, Olenka pulls out a harmonica for her third song. “I’m just a flash in the pan,” she sings, and she adds the just right amount of harmonica in between her lyrics. “Hard Times” is another memorable piece and, lyrically, all too relatable to pretty much anyone. The violin trembles and wavers, matching the uncertainty and trepidation “hard times” often bring, but then swells into something beautiful and steady. Olenka’s voice sounds like the clear crispness of a fall morning: clean and warm with tinges of sun yet slightly chilling at the same time.

When Olenka begins singing “Annelies,” a song about Anne Frank, the casual chatter and clinking glasses throughout the bar disappear within seconds. There’s a haunting edge to the precision of the silence in the room. The song starts gently and then slowly billows into a loud, powerful sound; her voice contains a melancholic fury that is calmly angry and distressingly sad at the same time. After she finishes, there is a silence, then serious, appreciative applause.

The show ends on a lighter note: Olenka tells everyone the last song is for dancing. As the band begins playing, the bartender leans over and turns on the disco ball. Tiny mirrored squares reflect on walls, faces, and floors as the drum beat pounds and Olenka’s voice, holding back nothing and infused with energy, sails around the room. Something about the music is incredibly comforting. It’s like tugging on your favourite sweater the first day of the year cold enough to see your breath in the morning.

By the time the show is over, the temperature outside is below fifteen degrees. There’s a full moon. It’s the early hours of a Thursday in the middle of July. The heat will be back soon, but for now, I shrug on my sweater and venture out into the cool darkness.

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