Cedar Rapids(March 15, 2014) “This year we discovered what I.R.S. Means. Now we have to pay taxes because we are ‘furriners’.”
These words by De Temps Antan accordionist, harmonica player and singer Pierre-Luc Dupuis address the cost of the band’s growing success in the U.S. of A. They are helping move Quebecois music from a regional favorite to greater acceptance and appreciation outside of Canada. Part of that effort was an outstanding concert Saturday, March 15th at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids.
Quebecois music isn’t as well-known in the U.S. as Zydeco, even though they share the same roots in French culture. The similarities are unmistakable, as the instrumentation and basic sound are the same. Both forms rely heavily on accordion and to a lesser extent fiddle, guitar and guitar. Songs can sound very similar when it comes to melody and the overall feel of the songs: Quebecois is no doubt meant to be foot stomping, dance party music evoking the roots of the working class people who gave it life. Despite common ancestry and musical similarities, there are differences that are hard to describe at times, nuances in how the music is played, as well as the chords used and structure of some of the songs, that are markedly different (even though the average person would probably have to listen to traditional Zydeco, then Quebecois, to hear the differences. For me it helped that Buckwheat Zydeco had played CSPS Hall the Wednesday night).
My best way of describing it is to say that the music De Temps Antan performed Saturday night had more of a “European feel” to it than the Zydeco Buckwheat Zydeco played a few days earlier. Melodies and riffs on accordion, fiddle, harmonica and guitar all sounded a bit more like something you would hear in a bistro in Paris than a party by a bayou in Louisiana. I guess I would say that the three members of De Temps Antan-Pierre-Luc Dupuis (accordion, harmonica, vocals, feet) Eric Beaudry (guitar, mandolin, bouzuki, vocals, feet) and Andre Brunet (violin, vocals, feet) mixed in some classical sounding elements that aren’t usually found in Quebecois’ close cousin Zydeco. At times, the songs seemed to have more in common with traditional Celtic/Irish music than Zydeco, especially on the slower songs. The bouzuki certainly isn’t found in any Zydeco I’ve heard. That instrument’s unique sound was enhanced further by some slide type stylings Eric engaged in on certain songs.
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Now, you might be wondering why I listed “feet” as an instrument for each band member? That would be because of the foot boards that are an integral part of Quebecois music are indeed instruments played with feet (and in this case, fitted with piezo-electric pickups!). An important aspect of Quebecois, these are not just used for basic foot tapping. The complex rhythms each member played with their feet added so much to the sound that it was as if a fourth member was present playing percussion. A testament to just how good Pierre, Eric and Andre are as musicians is that they could play, sing and tap out complex rhythms on the footboards in an effortless flow that had me shaking my head at how easy they made it seem. Foot stomping isn’t just a response to De Temps Antan’s music, it’s an essential part of it.
As a result, “foot stomping” is a natural label for the music of De Temps Antan. Or maybe not. “Earthshaking” is more like it. The floor of the performance hall at CSPS was shaking to the rhythm of not only the band, and the audience so much, I wondered for a moment whether any seismometers in the area were picking up the vibrations from scores of people having such a good time.
The band’s first set was high energy, with almost all the songs being the sort of up-tempo tunes that led to the aforementioned seismic event. People warmed up quickly to the guys’ energy, some getting up to dance right away, others shouting our their enjoyment and encouragement (the band was especially pleased by the French-speakers in the audience).
They changed things up a bit for the second set. They entered a darkened stage to an intro track from one of their songs. More was done with lighting changes. Mostly, the differences was some more down tempo songs, revealing a more contemplative, mellow side of their music than the first set displayed. I especially liked “Jeune et Joli”, a lilting ¾ time ballad that ended with an unexpected vocal polyphony that has been playing through my mind ever since. I also found “Tooth Fairy Jig” appealing, a song written by Andre in honor of his son’s first lost tooth.
The band’s last regular number was the rousing “Mepriseuse de Garcons” a hard driving song that evoked such a responce from the audience that if a sesmometers had already recorded the De Temps Anata-quake” in Cedar Rapids already, they would have at the end of the concert.