Any Quebecer who was a metalhead in the 80’s probably remembers B.A.R.F. and Voïvod. The latter was and still is particularly well-known even outside the Canadian “Belle Province”. Times have changed and metalheads grew up and cut their long hair. Or did they? At the Frontenac Cultural Center on February 26th, 2010, the surprisingly large crowd that gathered consisted of more leather and hair than I’ve seen in a long while.
Greying men in their mid-forties and female twenty-somethings all came to see the free show by Les Ékorchés – a band that includes B.A.R.F.’s lead “screamer” Marc Vaillancourt and Voïvod’s drummer Michel “Away” Langevin. They are joined by Patrick Gordon (guitar) and Philippe Mius d’Entremont (cello).
Unlike most hard core and heavy metal acts back in the day, these guys opt to scrap bass guitar in favor of electric cello. Their lyrics are sharp, witty and often militant – dare I say, pissed off. Delivered by a sometimes-barking Vaillancourt, the songs definitely have bite.
Watching Vaillancourt, time seems to have stood still. Quite fitting the band chose to perform the song Rien n’a changé (French for “nothing’s changed”) from their eponymous 2007 CD. Paradoxically, two of the singer’s young children were front row center. Time likes to play tricks on us; these kids are living proof of life moving forward. Yet there stood Vaillancourt, facing them, well-preserved and full of energy, looking pretty much the same as he did 20 years ago. He was in no way shy to introduce the crowd to his brood. Similarly, the kids didn’t seem embarrassed to see their dad hopping around shirtless, shouting Quebecois curse words, full of conviction. They even headbanged to a song against pedophilia. The tune was preceded by a passionate rant by dad, saying that NO form of pedophilia is acceptable.
Though the vocalist seemed every bit the doting dad, he didn’t miss an opportunity to poke fun at parenthood. To introduce the song Avance par en Arrière (which loosely translates to “move forward by going back”), Vaillancourt cracked that sometimes in life you get a step ahead, but your kids make you take 2 steps back. A bit of a comedian, the vocalist played off comments from the crowd. One such moment occurred while he introduced his sister, who joined the band for some sibling hair-swinging and duet vocals. As he affectionately greeted Martine Vaillancourt, someone in the crowd quipped ‘What about your mom?’ His response was a hands-in-the-air sort of ‘come on, not my mom!’
Stage banter also included remarks about scaring guitarist Gordon upon his return to the stage for an encore. Vaillancourt implied he was off sneaking some beer, which was ironic since no beer was available at the venue. Jokes about a non-alcohol fuelled metal show arose a few times during the performance. The lead-screamer remarked ‘It’s not the same without alcohol, huh?’ to which the crowd cheered. ‘Doesn’t bother me!’, he continued, as he held up his bottled water. Attention shifted to an audience member who held up a snuck-in flask of whisky, or other such soul-warming fluid. Suddenly, Vaillancourt seemed very enticed. He happily took a swig before introducing the title track from the band’s latest recording “IV Démons” (“four demons”).
Indeed, something seemed a bit odd about staging a hard core/heavy metal show at a cultural center, with cushioned seats and no liquor. It didn’t take long for the band to summon crowd members forward. As Vaillancourt insisted, the first improvement to make was to stand up. The next was to move forward at least two rows of seats. Flying hair reminded me that this was a rock show, not a theatre presentation. An 80’s rocker-kid myself, it felt both comforting and weird to revisit the past like this.
Musically, the highlight for me was really d’Entremont’s cello playing. Maybe I’m biased since I adore traditional cello, but I also have an affinity for strange or unique instruments. I’d never seen an electric cello, so was quite fascinated to watch someone play an instrument that was missing its bottom half but produced roughly the same sound as its acoustic ancestor. Just louder! And with more HAIR! D’entremont’s hair constantly fell across the strings, and I wondered how this could not impede his performance. Rule #1 of being in a good ol’ metal band: do not let long hair disturb your playing!
He and each of his bandmates seemed genuinely into their performance and thrilled at the turn-out. Gordon played his guitar (a plugged-in acoustic) understated but not without flair. ‘Away’ hammered his heart out on the drums as he’s always done in Voïvod. He gave it his all on what turned out to be his last show with Les Ékorchés. This was the only sad note of the show. However, Away’s bandmates seemed happy for him to return to his old band, which begins touring the U.S. in March. Once again, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
One thing that did change the night of this show was that as Vaillancourt reminded us, we would all leave the venue more ‘cultured’. If there were more than two unilingual anglo-Quebecers in the place, they too left more cultured. These songs entirely sung in French, cross boundaries and can be appreciated by non-French speakers. The militant attitude can be felt rather than lyrically understood. The instrumental part of Les Ékorchés’ music also speaks for itself, crossing any potential language barriers. In short, music any metal fan can enjoy.
Everyone exiting the room left with the refrain of D’la viande Cé Murs on their tongue. In English, this translates to “guts (literally “meat”) on the walls” but the slang is not quite captured adequately. Let me attempt an interpretation and expansion. Blood, guts, energy…all of it splayed across walls of a room eager to welcome the blast of heavy-hitting music. And we were definitely hit, right smack in the face! Like a shot of whisky in an alcoholic drought!