Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Vincent Vallières at Metropolis | Review


Vincent Vallières  |  Metropolis

                                  PHOTOS  |  MIREILLE JEAN

‘Monoculture: a single, homogeneous culture without diversity or dissension’
         -The Free Dictionary

Dear Mr. Vincent Vallières, 

I find myself writing to you for many different reasons. Even so, I think the essential message I would like for you to take home is one of Thank You/Gratitude! Skim if you like, this letter is long and deviates in plenty. 

Most of the time when I see bands play, I never feel like I could actually just hang out with them as people and be friends, but not so with you. Your genuinity (defined only in the urban - a fancy word for slang - dictionary, but I think it’s real dictionary worthy) makes me believe that I could honestly hang out with you in your role as fellow human being and still feel a sense of friendship and kinship. Basically, the antithesis of the all-to-often bloated music-industry ego phenomenon, that is, a normal, regular person. 

The first time that I heard your song Asbestos, slight suspicion did arise, but it always does in the beginning when you really connect with something. Most of the time though, your connected honeymoon soon joins the ranks of banality, disappointment, beer commercials, or whatever else that could lessen one’s perceived genuinity of a musician (but not necessarily their music).   
You have a wife, 3 kids, a job in your field that you love and are passionate about, you come from cold, Québécois, humble, winter-wood-cutting origins. I sincerely thank you for not forgetting that artistically and publicly, but instead holding it dear and letting the light shine for all to see. 

I mention this because at the beginning of your show, you took some time to speak to the audience. Your monologue was weaved with the threads of wit, charisma, kindness, interest, personal divulges, and sincerity. It was completely natural and very funny and endearing. You spoke about yourself in relation with us, the crowd; you told us the story of how your band formed in ‘secondaire cinq’ and its subsequent evolutionary path, including the banning of love songs and then the embracing of love songs; you told us the tale about how you ended up winning a ‘bourse’, for which Leonard Cohen donated the money, to ‘la chanson québécoise’. 
I am so glad, and the québécoise music industry is so fortunate, to have you use Cohen’s bourse for:

La chanson québécoise♪♫♬♩

What an excellent example of what music can do on a local, sustainable, loving, respectful, creative level as you so motivationally, dedicatedly, sincerely, and proudly (rightfully so!) shared with the crowd (and Radio-Canada the day before). 

At any rate, ‘en région’, you are offering young people free shows in the afternoon so as to expose them to the beauty, worth, and yes, even cool music in French. Generally speaking, it turns out that these children are neither listening to Québécois artists, nor to music in French. And get this, they prefer to listen to what plays over and over and over again everywhere you go, which is the popular (usually 100% American) top 10 at any given time: New Direction, at least they are British, Rihana, Miley, blah, blah, gag, gag…  

Humph, francophone children prefer listening to music, that more than likely they don’t understand, from a different country. People always laugh or are astounded when I tell them that my first true encounter with the French language was in Chicoutimi. Bizarrely, yet fortunately for me, The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville had a sister exchange program with l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi at that time! 

It will come to no surprise to Anglophones who have learned French, that for those first few weeks (and let’s face it, pretty much the entire stay) I was in a linguistic purgatory−just waiting for all of my hard work learning French to magically kick in and I gracefully blossom into my newfound bilingualism). I was NEVER exposed to French before the age of 15, so learning French in the States and majoring in it in university requires blood, sweat, and tears. 

Bear with, I do have a related point here—music. During a class in Chicoutimi, my teacher printed out the lyrics to the Coloc’s song ‘La rue principale’. She explained it to us, with all of its ‘Québécisms’ and deep first and second-degree insights. She patiently played us the song over and over until we understood it. Another one of our classes was a music class whose aim was to present us a vast potpourri of québécois music. I took all of this new musical knowledge into the real world with me, and even though 98% of the time I was incomprehensible (and vice versa), we were able to connect through the music I was learning about.

I heard and liked Jean Leloup on the radio and asked my housemother ‘est-ce que tu aimes?’ to which she replied that he was a druggy. It just made me like him even more. When we would go out at night, the Colocs’ songs were always playing loudly and were the ones that everyone liked the best, including us non-francophones. On the flip side, I was disappointed to find that a lot of the music being played at the time was in English. Wanting to soak up as much different culture as possible, I instead found my monoculture back yard—the land of highly indebted student loaners, masses of frats blaring The Dave Matthew’s Band while drinking themselves into oblivion and yelling way too loudly. 

Well, Francophone Québécois kids, listen up, here is a lesson you’d be better off to learn, process, and understand earlier rather than later in life. The gatekeepers of the commercial music industry in the States are usually fairly ethnocentric and they will never choose ‘la chanson québécoise’ to play or promote on their radio stations or on their stupid reality shows because she is a nobody that doesn’t offer any significant financial gain, to them anyway. 

You, Mr. Vallières, are an ambassador for good will and francophone music. What is more cheerful than that? You also promised us a good time at your show and you delivered just that. Your song writing is great, your music as well, and seeing you and your band play live is fun and super. You make music that should be proudly playing just about anywhere. I’m giving the readers of this letter the link to your website where they can read about your ‘projet de tournée scolaire’ and of course listen to your music and what not, http://vincentvallieres.com/.

I hope I have been able to adequately express my sincere gramercy for your social implications, words, songs, music… I close with a shout out to your band, as I know your shows and music are not made in a vacuum. They were awesomely integral: André Papanicolaou on guitar, Michel Olivier Gasse on bass, and Simon Blouin on drums. Yours and the band’s camaraderie was palpable and sweet. 

Not to mention your guitar player was the opener for the show—Andre Papanicolaou. He was good (it’s not easy being the opener). He played acoustic guitar and sang songs of heartbreak with a country-ish twang. His voice was absolutely beautiful and carried amazingly. The only constructiveness I give is that it is really hard to play the acoustic guitar as a one man show and differentiate oneself from the pack, especially in English where one shares the scene with the acoustic solo instrumentation genre‘s masters in song writing: Elliot Smith, Johnny Cash, Beck, etc., Or, unless you have a strongly intense or poignant message to give out as when you sang ‘Asbestos’ acoustically solo. Therefore, it might be a good idea to change the line up to something eccentric; the ‘alt-country’ scene is more mainstream and popular than ever these days. I could see some combination with maybe one more guitar, maybe electric with use of a slide at times or a steel guitar, maybe just drums; an extra something to bring out the uniqueness of what he has to offer.    

Yours truly,
Mary Niven
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