Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of seeing Nolwenn Leroy in her American debut, performing at Drom in New York City. Drom is an odd little basement club on Avenue A in the East Village. It’s small, but the acoustics are nice, the food is decent and reasonably priced, and the atmosphere is appropriately moody and mysterious. I wasn’t able to convince any of my New York area friends to join me at the show, so I was prepared to go alone. But unfortunately, Drom is a confusing place with very poor customer service. They have tables at certain events, and you need to make a reservation for a table separately from simply buying a ticket. When I called to reserve a table, I was told that they didn’t take reservations for one. The woman on the phone told me that the place would be set up with all tables so I’d have to stand in the back at the bar. I was pretty upset about the prospect of taking a 4.5-hour bus ride to New York to have to “stand in the back at the bar.” So I set about to finding myself someone to sit with. I reached out to this girl, Brittany, who happened to tweet at Nolwenn that she was excited about the show, and she agreed to add me to her table reservation.
So I met Brittany and her friend Howard at Drom. Our seats were awesome, dead center, right in front of the stage. It turns out that most of the venue was actually standing room, not tables. Had I not Twitter-stalked Brittany and gotten a seat at her table, I still could have been close to the stage. But in the end, I’m glad I got to sit, plus I made new friends, so what could be better?
This show in New York was basically a record release party for Nolwenn’s new self-titled album, her first album available in the US. In 2010, she released Bretonne an homage to the French province of Brittany where she was born. It was mostly covers of French, English, and Breton folk songs. The next year, she released a deluxe edition with even more English-language songs. I was kind of bummed at the time because a.) I had already bought the regular edition and b.) I had already left France and didn’t want to pay the import price for an album I already half-owned. So I was actually pretty delighted when she decided to release Nolwenn in America. This album is all of the additional English songs from the deluxe edition plus a few of the Breton songs. Noticeably absent from the American album? Any and all French. Apparently for an American audience, it’s more acceptable to sing in Breton – pretty much a dead language – than it is to sing in French. ~le sigh~
It was definitely surreal to see Nolwenn walk out on stage. I’ve wanted to see her perform live for a long time but didn’t think I ever would. If I never made it while I was living in France, I was sure it wasn’t going to happen now that I’m back Stateside.
Nolwenn was very emotional after the first couple of songs, when she paused to greet and thank the crowd. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes as she proclaimed (three times!) how great it felt to say “Good evening New York.” I guess her being in the US was as surreal for her as it was for me!
Nolwenn and her band (keyboard, two guitars, and that-guy-who-played-all-the-weird-celtic-instruments) put on a very entertaining show. Channeling Stevie Nicks in a long, beaded, green dress and black, lace shawl, she had an air of comfort and ease on stage. She was playful and gracious with the crowd, telling stories – in perfect English – as though she knew us all personally. Judging from the number of her actual friends and family in the audience, that’s not so far off. They played nearly every song on the “new” album, from the first single – “Moonlight Shadow” – to “Amazing Grace” to “Whiskey in the Jar.” They even did a bunch of the Breton language songs, ending with a “Tri Martolod” sing-a-long (well, just the “tra la la la” part…)
In the middle of the set, she taught us all how to do the jig. I was already pretty familiar. 🙂 It was cool to see so much of the crowd get into it. Tons of people actually linked pinkies and formed a giant conga-esque line and jigged their way all around the tiny venue. Brittany, Howard, and I invented the “seated jig.” It was less strenuous than it would have been if we were standing, but the instrumental interlude the band played while we all jigged went on for a LONG time. My arms are totally not in good enough shape for that!
There was a family with two little kids sitting at the table next to us. Towards the middle of the evening, one of the kids called out, “S’il vous plait, La Jument de Michao.” It was adorable, but I don’t think Nolwenn heard. “La Jument de Michao” is one of the songs (the best song, in my opinion) on Bretonne, but apparently she was determined not to sing in French in New York. She sang one song in French, “Rentrer en Bretagne” (Return to Brittany), and that’s it. The little kid sitting next to me wasn’t the only one disappointed. When the set was over and the crowd starting yelling “Un autre!” (Another!), Brittany, Howard, the kids next to us, and I chanted “Mi-chao, Mi-chao!” Whether there were other people chanting it too, or we were just the loudest ones right up front, I’m not sure, but Nolwenn responded by saying that she and the band weren’t “prepared to sing in French” that night. So they encored (literally, they had already played it once during the set) with “Suite Sudarmoricaine,” another song in Breton that we all “la la”-ed along to.
The audience participation was a lot of fun, and the whole show was super entertaining, but there is definitely a little part of me that wishes she had performed at least a couple of things from her older albums. I’ve been a big fan since 2003, back when she first won Star Academy. The music of her first few albums is TOTALLY different from the most recent ones, but I like them all (Well, except Le Cheshire Cat et Moi. That album is kind of weird…) I suppose it’s true that the different genres of music don’t really go together and would make for a very disjointed set. My suggestion (Are you listening, Nolwenn?!) is to do a show in two parts. Part one: the older, pop-ier stuff. Part two: the newer celtic folk stuff. Everyone’s happy. Ok, maybe just I’m happy. And the little kid sitting next to me at the show will probably be happy. Who cares about anybody else?
After the show, Nolwenn very graciously signed autographs and took photos with fans for nearly TWO HOURS! My new friends and I hung back until close to the end which meant we had to wait for a long time. It turns out that I really picked the right person to stalk on Twitter. In a case of “it’s a very small world” it turns out that Brittany’s brother is the city manager of the town in Ohio where Nolwenn was an exchange student in high school. While we waited in line, Brittany texted her brother to try to get him to agree to host a “Nolwenn’s Return” concert in that town. He said yes, so Brittany told Nolwenn about it. We were all pretty excited about the prospect. I hope it actually happens. I told Brittany I want VIP seats. 🙂
I tweeted at Nolwenn with one of the photos I took at the concert, and she used it on her website and facebook pages which is pretty cool. It would be nice if they gave me credit for the photo, but oh well.
Also, the French news was there filming and because my new friends and I were sitting up front (and enthusiastically doing the seated jig) we were featured in the report a TON. Check it out! I’m (not really) famous!