Monday, November 14th, 2011
Coeur de Pirate at The Mod Club in Toronto
Frank YangThe last few years have seen a bit of a renaissance with respect to Francophone Canadian bands making inroads both in English-speaking Canada and internationally, thanks in no small part to there generally being at least one such act on every year’s Polaris Music Prize shortlist. And circa 2009, I certainly expected Montreal’s Béatrice Martin – aka Coeur de Pirate – to be leading the charge. Her 2008 self-titled debut made the long list that year, but hardly needed the boost – she was already a star in many French-speaking parts of the world and had even gotten some high-profile boosterism from American media types such as Perez Hilton and Good Morning America. And, oh, the fact that she was young, beautiful, completely bilingual, and her album a mesmerizing slice of piano-led pop certainly didn’t hurt her odds for success.
But rather than leverage that into ubiquity, Coeur de Pirate opted to play it coy with Anglo Canada, playing festival dates but never booking her own headlining show at a club or theatre. This made gauging her fanbase in Toronto, at least, a bit difficult – her NXNE 2009 showcase was nigh-on impossible to get into but also held at the tiny Dakota Tavern, whereas being tapped to open up day two of that year’s V Fest saw her playing to a mostly-empty Molson Amphitheatre to a brace of Nine Inch Nails die-hards. And earlier this year, when she was booked to play a free show at Harbourfront Centre, her potential audience was probably affected at least a little by another free show downtown by one Aretha Franklin.
All of which made her show at The Mod Club last Friday night to celebrate the release earlier that week of her second album Blonde of particular interest as it would be, as far as I knew, the first opportunity for local fans to actually buy tickets to a Coeur concert and show their support quantitatively. Which they did en masse, as the performance was completely sold out. It still would have been interesting to break them down demographically between long-time fans, ones who’d come to her via Armistice, her English-language side-project with Bedouin Soundclash Jay Malinowski, and how many had simple heard Blonde and been bowled over.
The last of those is eminently plausible as the new record is, in a word, amazing. The girlish, chanson-derived charms of Coeur de Pirate have blossomed into widescreen, swinging-’60s full-band pop gems with Martin functioning less as a singer-songwriter than a full-on bandleader. It was a role that Martin played perfectly on Friday night, alternately playing standing up behind her piano – no sitting! – or stepping out and up to the mic alone. Some pianist-frontpersons might feel uncomfortable or exposed away from their instruments, but Martin performed like a seasoned professional which, even though she’s just 22, I suppose she already is.
The full-band presentation not only did a fine job of bringing Blonde to life but also reinvented the Coeur de Pirate material, muscling up the arrangements and tempos and replacing its ingénue qualities with sass and sophistication. The middle portion of the set turned the time machine back from the ’60s back to the ’40s for a more melancholic vibe, but there was no way to make the show – which also included a couple of Armistice tunes with Malinowski showing up to play duet partner, an abridged version of her cover of The Weeknd’s “Wicked Games” and an unexpected mass audience singalong on “Comme des enfants” – anything less than a giddy celebration and coming-out party. It was a complete understatement when near the night’s end, Martin declared, “it’s been a good show”. It was a great show, and hopefully the first of many more to come.
Photos: Coeur de Pirate @ The Mod Club – November 11, 2011
Video: Coeur de Pirate – “Adieu”
Video: Coeur de Pirate – “Ensemble”
Video: Coeur de Pirate – “Francis”
Video: Coeur de Pirate – “Comme des enfants”
Video: Armistice – “Mission Bells”
Video: Jenn Grant – “Getcha Good”
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