Lennie Gallant |
at Hugh's Room,
(16 November 2002)
Hugh's Room is a wonderful little folk oasis, hidden between buildings in a rather ramshackle neighbourhood in Toronto's west end. It has a warmth and a welcoming ambience, friendly staff, good food -- and the sound quality is exceptional no matter where you are sitting. It was the perfect environment to welcome weary travelers and to hear one of Canada's folk heroes.
Celebrating the release of Le vent boh¸me, his first all-French album, in a primarily English-speaking city had to have been more than a little scary; but Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant put on a great show on a snowy Saturday night in Toronto. He and bandmates Jamie Alcorn (guitar) and Sean Kemp (electric fiddle) rocked their way through two sets of high-energy folk songs, pretty ballads and poignant stories, and had the crowd clapping and singing along enthusiastically.
Early in the first set, Gallant asked, "Combien de francophones ont ici ce soir?" ("How many Francophones are there here tonight?") There was some rather timid applause (probably from people who, like myself, speak French but feared some sort of pop quiz if we admitted it), to which he replied, "Two! Good!" And the ice, as they say, was broken. Later, however, we would not allow him to play the English version of "Je ne changerais rien" ("I Wouldn't Change a Thing") -- we had come to hear cuts from his new record and would not settle for translations.
Gallant played most of his best-known songs, as well as a good selection of tracks from the new record, pausing to tell us stories and jokes while he tuned. Most noteworthy were "Briser les murs," "Laisse aller," "Perfect Kiss" (a song about finding that one moment of perfect love and understanding), "Peter's Dream" and "There Must Be Another Song" (a touching tribute to the man who takes care of Gallant's guitars in Halifax). Throughout the show, I could not help but think that it is amazing how much sound can come from two acoustic guitars and a fiddle.
The highlight of the show for me was "Coal Black," Gallant's take on the Westray Mine explosion and its aftermath. Kemp's fiddle underlined the desperation and sadness of the song; and Gallant's voice the anger. He closed out the show with his titanic "The Band's Still Playing." The crowd jumped to its collective feet, not even allowing him to leave the stage. He treated us to "Man of Steel" as an encore and departed the stage with a "merci beaucoup!" I'm already looking forward to his next tour in Ontario.