Inscrit: Apr 29, 2009 Messages: 82
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Jean Leloup and I were standing in his studio, topless. The beloved Quebec singer-songwriter had just asked for the shirt off my back, and I had dutifully complied.
Well, to be fair, he didn’t ask, his publicist did. Leloup was going to ask a friend, who had left the room. The Montreal Gazette was shooting a video of him performing the song Voyageur. He didn’t think the first take, with him sitting, was exciting enough (he was wrong, of course – it was great), and he wanted to funk things up, starting with his attire.
So there we were, trading T-shirts. He put on my black one, I put on his grey-green V-neck and he sang the song again, standing in front of a fur fabric we draped over a door.
When it was finished he hovered over the photographer, watching the playback.
“C’est-tu mieux?” he asked, looking around.
Ah, the tormented artist. An absolute natural when performing, riddled with self-doubt once the music stops, and a perfectionist through and through.
Leloup is in the midst of a renaissance. The 54-year-old rocker released his acclaimed, hit 10th album À Paradis City earlier this year – an effortless collection of rootsy, groovy tunes bearing a mature edition of his trademark whimsy, philosophy and existential musings.
On Thursday, he will embark on a series of shows to support the album, which so far comprises: nine at Metropolis with a full band (six of them already sold out, with two expected soon to follow); and three solo at Place des Arts.
He could have just done a big shebang at the Bell Centre, but that’s not Leloup’s style. The wild-eyed troubadour’s rebel spirit would never go for something so corporate. Plus, it wouldn’t have allowed him to mount two separate performances, each with its own elaborate concept.
“The Metropolis series will be with a string section,” he explained. “It takes place in Paradis City, in the jardin des marguerites. Paradis City is a perfect city; it’s fun, it’s extraordinary, life couldn’t be better. You’re on another planet where the air is pure and there is no war. C’est hallucinant! There’s a bar that is an exact replica of Metropolis, and there’s an endangered species: vintage rockers. We’re the band de sauvages, and we’re going to play Paradis City.”
Leloup has recruited a string quintet (Martin Roy on upright bass, Shonna Angers and Edith Fitzgerald on violins, Sarah Martineau on viola and Camille Paquette-Roy on cello) to accompany the seasoned trio which has played with him for the past 15 years: David Mobio on keyboards, Charles Yapo on bass and Alain Berger on drums.
“We’ve put together a band that is very romantic-punk-disco,” he said.
The group was in the midst of rehearsals, and Leloup was pumped.
“Martin Roy and Alexis Le May are doing the string arrangements, but they’re not your typical string arrangements. We’re practising the sections so that they can move; they’re not set. It’s hard as hell. And we’ve prepared a whole show, with lights and decor. We’ve made a theatrical production.”
The concerts at Place des Arts will be bare-bones, comparatively, with Leloup alone on guitar; but don’t think he doesn’t have a vision for that, too.
“The (Metropolis) series is about the rise and fall of Paradis City. It’s like life on Earth, with all its passions, love and joy. The (Place des Arts) series is about the ghost of Paradis City. It’s in a completely different world that’s all about what lies underneath the material side of life, the files we don’t talk about. It’s all our ghosts.”
Leloup’s ability to embrace such highfalutin’ conceptualizing is part of what makes him such a riot. The musician marches to the beat of his own drum, always has, always will. But there is something more – an ephemeral, intangible je ne sais quoi that sets him apart from his peers, captures the imagination of his intergenerational legions of fans and has made him into something of a folk hero. Ask him to put his finger on it, however, and he’ll bat the question away.
“Well, they like the songs a lot,” he ventured, after much hemming and hawing. “The latest songs seem to touch people. That’s it. I don’t know, really. People do great things but they don’t become a phenomenon. I do simple things. The one thing I can say is I love simple music, like when you have a bon petit beat et une bonne riff. That helps … I like simple things, so it’s easy to reach a lot of people.
“That explains how it’s easier to communicate, but popularity can’t be explained. Ça s’explique pas.”
Then with a grin, he added, “It must be my nose – it’s crooked.”
One thing is certain: Leloup loves le live. The stage is his natural habitat, the place where his soul-searching songs come to life, his charisma shines bright and his frenetic energy has a focus. In the moment, communing with band and fans, his nervous energy subsides and something new is created.
“It’s a very curious phenomenon,” he said. “You compose a song at home, alone, it’s just your reality. Then another musician comes along and plays something deeper, harder, sadder or happier and makes you see the story in another way. You have to open yourself to how they see the music in order to make it whole. It’s not just music, notes; it also makes you go, ‘Oh s–t, I can feel that feeling another way. I am sad, but there are many ways to be sad, there are degrees of sadness.’
“Live is an experience of sans-paroles. I play this way, he plays another. Adapting is a kind of healing and a kind of digging, into what you were meaning in a song. It’s like a real big visit with your soul. You’re alone, but you’re also playing with others – and not just playing for fun but with the objective of doing something great, which is not just playing music to fill a boring Saturday.”
Greatness is ever the goal for Leloup – tripping the light fantastic, reaching a level of awesome to transcend the boredom of the day-to-day. The Wolf-Man has had his wild periods, indulging in all forms of excess. He has gone so far as to make us wonder where he was headed, whether he would come back and if so in what state.
And yet, here he is, weary and worn but still with a glint in his eye, a spring in his step and a Peter Pan appeal that invites us to fly away on his magic/crazy carpet. À Paradis City is notable for its dark side. Death is evoked repeatedly on the album, which nonetheless teems with life, and is the richer for having peered into the abyss.
“C’est un bon kaleidoscope de la vie,” Leloup said.
The upcoming shows will offer a kaleidoscope of his career. The singer has picked through his discography and chosen a grab-bag of tunes he calls “the best songs from my life.” Which leads us to a conversation about songwriting, and songwriters. He drops names – Johnny Cash, Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams.
“These guys are flying, they’re so good,” he said. “It makes no sense. I look at my songs, and I’m rather clumsy – clumsy but honest.”
Asked what sets these icons apart, Leloup replied, “They get the flow. They are music. It just comes out like that. Everything they do comes out génial.”
Takes one to know one.
AT A GLANCE
Jean Leloup et son orchestre perform Oct. 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, Nov. 7 and Jan. 21, 22, 23 at Metropolis. Tickets remain for the January shows only: priced from $49.14 to $74.74. Call 514-790-1245 or visit ticketmaster.ca
Leloup performs solo Dec. 5, Feb. 10 and Feb. 13 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts. Tickets: $40.76 to $87.27; call 514-842-2112 or visit placedesarts.com
Inscrit: Apr 29, 2009 Messages: 82
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