Saturday night I had the pleasure of seeing Coeur de Pirate perform at Brighton Music Hall. I went by myself because I don’t know anyone else local who likes francophone music, but the venue holds 340 people and the show was sold out, so apparently I haven’t been looking for friends in the right places.
I left my house early so I’d arrive in time to snag a prime viewing spot, but I made the mistake of driving into the city. I’ve been to BMC before (when it was still called Harper’s Ferry) and not had too much difficulty parking, so I was unprepared to circle the neighborhood for over an hour(!) looking for a spot. Alas, that’s a story for another post someday…
Even though I arrived only 15 minutes to show time, I still scored a spot right up front. I must have had some concert karma on reserve. The opener was a Berklee student named Hanna Christianson and her band. She played a simple set, keyboard, guitar, and cajón (basically a box the drummer sits on and hits), and they only performed for about 25 minutes, but the songs were sweet and catchy and had some really beautiful harmonies. When she pulled out a Tibetan Singing Bowl for a song called “Spirit Eyes,” I heard a few people behind me groan. I guess that wasn’t the crowd to appreciate unusual instrumentation. My favorite of the set was “Let’s Be Frisbees,” a clever little love song that’s very reminiscent of Regina Spector.
Watching artists like Hannah and her band perform always makes me a little sad. I used to work at Berklee, and I’ve seen a lot of students with big talent and high hopes. I know that the likelihood of most of them actually going anywhere in the music business is pretty slim. It makes me wish there were room for everybody at the top. A lot of these musicians deserve a lot more than they get. It also makes me sad to see the band put their heart and soul into performing only to have 90% of the people in the club talking and carrying on amongst themselves, not paying an ounce of attention to the band. Sure they’re not who you came here to see, but listen up and you might make an awesome discovery! If you’re interested in Hannah Christianson’s music (and you should be) check her out at Music of Hannah.
When Coeur de Pirate and her band finally took the stage, she looked positively terrifed to be there. For someone who’s performed on live television in France and Canada, I was surprised to see her so nervous, singing with her eyes closed, rarely smiling. She was in black from head to toe, with an open-knit sweater covering up half of her famous tattoos. Her blonde bob was more disheveled than usual and I couldn’t help but wonder why she hadn’t taken the time to run a comb through it before the show. Later, when she told us she had the flu, I felt bad about my snarky thoughts. She said she’d be happy if she just made it through the show without fainting. The four guys in her band wore matching hipster beards and skinny jeans.
She didn’t talk much at first other than ending every song with “mercibeaucoupthankyousomuch,” all in one breath. After a while she loosened up some, but the intensity of the crowd always seemed to shock her. Unlike during the opener, the audience was pin-drop quiet, mesmerized I guess. So she kept asking us if we were having a good time. “You’re so intense and quiet,” she’d say. “It’s like I’m performing alone in my living room except I’m not alone. There are 300 eyes watching me.”
Because the crowd was a mix of anglophones and francophones, the banter during the set was equally bilingual. She’d translate herself sometimes, and sometimes she’d start a sentence in one language and finish in the other. She joked that here in America most people call her “Core de Pie-rat.” Her English was flawless. I long for the kind of easy bilingualism she has.
She played almost every song from both of her albums and yet the set was only just over an hour long. As complete entities, the two albums seem vastly different, but the individual songs blend seemlessly together live. I still prefer the newer stuff. Most of the new album is happy, sunny, power pop, even if most of the songs are about love gone wrong. Every time I hear the hook of “Ava,” I swear I’ve heard it somewhere else before. It’s somehow both retro and refreshing. The entire album is classic, like she’s singing about 1960s California… except the lyrics are about modern-day Paris and Montreal.
I was most excited to hear her perform my favorite song from the new album, “Place de la Republique.” It’s a slower song, melancholic even, with sweeping violins and a military-esque snare beat driving the climax of the final chorus. Apparently it’s her favorite song too. “I don’t usually like my songs,” she said. “I mean, that’d be weird. But this one is pretty dope.”
Towards the middle of the set, someone in the back yelled out “Comme des Enfants,” to which she sighed, rolled her eyes, and replied, “Come on…” “Comme des Enfants” is her biggest hit. The song won the 2010 Victoires de la Musique (the French Grammy awards). Anglophones might even recognize it from a recent Pampers commercial. But it’s obvious she wasn’t going to play it so early in the set. To that rude guy in the back: Even if you don’t know any other songs, at least pretend like you have some respect for the artist and actually want to be there.
When she finally did play “Comme des Enfants,” during the encore, she stopped towards the end to let the audience sing the chorus. It’s a simple lyric, but of course it’s entirely in French. I think I was more shocked than she was to see a roomful of people in America who knew all the words. In fact, the two girls standing next to me at the front of the stage were singing along to every song all night. It’s a fan base I didn’t know existed in Boston, but I’m very happy to discover.
She ended with her latest single, “Adieu,” an appropriate, and literal, goodbye song. I, for one, hope this isn’t a final adieu for Coeur de Pirate in America, and I have a feeling there are at least 339 other people in Boston who agree with me.