Maybe a bit demotivated and excellently tired from the previous night (apparently I get old quite easily) I make my way on time to the venue for the last day of the folk/songwriter festival; maybe a bit too punctual, as half of Vienna seems to be queuing to get in and, still ashamed to have been running around backstage uninvited the previous night, I stick to the guest line and don’t rudely push in (as I maybe should have). Luckily for me, I manage to throw my jacket onto a chair a couple of rows from the stage, hence reserving a seat for the evening, which happened to come in very handy. I have, since then, realised that punk shows where anarchy rules and the camera constantly is threatened by moshpit kids might just, quite possibly, be better than no photo pit and no reserved area for photographers at a seated concert.
The first band to take the stage is fronted by a skinny french boy with huge blue eyes and a wide white shirt, elegant and casual and terribly cute. I remembered seeing him backstage the previous day, being intrigued by his smile and his seemingly french accent. He introduces himself as Francois, his band being the Atlas Mountains (I presume), and starts off singing in this very particular style, very dear to the French, something that became known around the world, with Edith Piaf and Francoise Hardy among others, as chanson. So, chanson it is, his voice fluctuating not much higher than you’d imagine him being capable of – he looks young and sweet after all, and not terribly virile; somewhat seeming to ride an imaginary wave as he sings, lost in his world of Bristol love-stories and quirky situations. Not by himself, as he lets everyone in on the secret – Francois, at the piano and on the guitar, telling anecdotes for each number, is charming like only a Frenchman (minus the mustache, the striped mariner’s shirt, the baguette and the beret) could be. As I understand after the first song, he is a male version of SoKo – but with actual skills. Whereas she was simply amusing, he is talented; his songs are improved I’ll Kill Her‘s, with the charm of Charles Aznavour and at times, the writing skills of Bob Dylan at his wittiest. The most exciting thing about the lyrics is how he combines the two languages, making French words rhyme with English verbs, making it all seem very natural, reminding me of my household where we would speak fast mixing all sort of languages we grew up with, making up words where needed. Francois creates a new language and laughs at himself, using the pain of break-ups to create something beautiful; the Atlas Mountains, switching instruments, dancing on stage like there’s no tomorrow, compact and all over the place at the same time, are a superb treat for the heart and a perfect way to start the evening.
Next up is a local musician I never got the chance to experience live before: Pieter Gabriel. The attitude, at the antipodes of the previous band’s, is nevertheless intriguing. Counting among his influences one of my favorite musical legends in the universe – Jeff Buckley – I have high expectations. Fulfilled, as I think to myself after the first, intense, drone-ey song, where notes are held and heads are kept low – showing that getting your rock influences right, even coupled with very little (if not to say none) charisma, can take you a long way
By now I am enthralled on the one hand, but also fear what will come next: a singer-songwriter by the generic name of John Smith (yes, like the Pocahontas guy) who really couldn’t stand up to the bands who preceded him on stage even if he wanted to, right? Wrong. He sits right up front, with his acoustic guitar and rocks the hell out of the public, who don’t believe their eyes and ears, like only a guitar virtuoso could do. He truly makes country-folk seem experimental like Pink Floyd in their early years and turns his guitar into an exotic instrument, one pinched string at a time, fully deserving his standing ovation.
Two encores later it’s time for the guy I shared my cigarettes with the previous night to make his grand ‘entrée’ on stage: Joel Gibb and his Hidden Cameras, string instruments in hand and looking very smart and making it a point d’honneur to make the audience shake on this Saturday night, no matter how many We Oh We‘s it takes. The “gay church music” band from Toronto are captivating to say the least. With an angelic cello player who seems too young to know what “Golden Streams” could be and a violinist who looks like a mad professor, the Hidden Cameras don’t try too hard to fit into this or that mold.
As the evening comes to an end and all the musicians of that evening are invited to take the stage (a dancing Atlas Mountain included) it is clear that the Canadian-band’s strength lies not just in the vocalist’s falsettos and witty texts on sexual preferences, but first and foremost in their versatility.