Playing the second of two dates at the new MTelus venue in Montreal, Charlotte Gainsbourg soft-launched Montreal Jazz Festival last night. The festival, which is attended by 2 million people annually, starts officially today (28 July).
The Jazz Festival has had a longstanding relationship with the above mentioned venue before it changed its name from Metropolis to MTelus and had a revamp. Notably, it's put on shows here for the likes of Snoop Dogg, Cyndi Lauper, and the late, great Prince, who played for a whopping four hours in 2011. But the two Charlotte Gainsbourg shows are the first time the festival's used it with the new moniker - and having Charlotte Gainsbourg play felt a fittingly iconic way of Christening it.
The evening started off with an opening set by Aliocha, a local act playing the festival for his second consecutive year. Born Nicolas Schneider, the singer made his claim to fame, before releasing his debut project, Eleven Songs, last year. It took Schneider some time to win the crowd over. Rushing through songs without stopping to speak in between didn’t seem to help this.
It wasn’t until his special guest came out that things started to shape up: “We were her special guest last year, now she’s here to return the favor”, said Schneider, before bringing out hometown hero Charlotte Cardin for their duet, 'Flash in the Pan.'
It felt exhilirating to see Cardin as a guest at the venue after selling out over a handful of shows at the venue last year, both solo and alongside Nick Murphy. The appearance was a great full-circle moment for Cardin, and could be seen as somewhat of a celebration just weeks after both of her EPs have struck Gold status in Canada.
Just minutes shy of 9:30 PM, Gainsbourg took to the stage with her band, who, in matching black outfits, looked every bit the part on a moodily-lit stage. This added a terrific sense of production value to the show, with the strobe lights often syncing up to the music's rhythm.
As much as the Jazz Festival continuously strives towards appealing to a younger audience, this show was predominantly attended by a mature crowd. The older, primarily Francophone attendees were head-over-heels any time Gainsbourg sang or even better, spoke in French. She was particularly soft-spoken whenever this occurred, seeming grateful to find a turnout like this overseas.
But the audience were split when it came to the 'Rest' singer’s newer material. Despite being heavily marketed throughout the city upon its release, the majority of MTelus were in no mood to dance to the French House-inspired tracks. The biggest crowd pleaser came towards the end of the set with, 'Charlotte for Ever', a rare instance of sing-a-long.
Gainsbourg closed the set with a one-two punch: her cover of Kanye West’s 'Runaway', which few seemed to appreciate, and her 2001 hit, 'Lemon Incest', which went down brilliantly.
But the occasional dip from the crowd is insignificant in the grand scheme of things: Charlotte Gainsbourg is French royalty and the new material is her best in years, even if it's not as accessible. Plus, of all cities in North America to see her, this festival city can't be topped. A home away from home.
The Montreal International Jazz Festival continues until 7 July, with performances from the likes of Kamasi Whasington and Bonobo.