JVAL Openair – Begnins – 27.08.2016

Fùgù Mango saved my evening.

The most remarkable thing about the JVAL Openair festival is its setting. The stage is set up in the front yard of a large farmhouse in the foothills of the Jura, entirely surrounded by vineyards that roll down to the shores of Lake Geneva, with the Alps looming up on the other side. After darkness fell on the last night of the festival, a swarm of Chinese lanterns were released from another courtyard somewhere below, as lightning flashed through the clouds over the distant mountains.

In the warmth of the late evening, this spectacular natural light show almost made up for having waited through a terribly boring set from Belgian singer Kris Dane. He was accompanied by a string quartet, drums, percussion, bass, organ and a backing vocalist. Sadly, even allowing for the clear problems they were having with getting the audio mix right, his songs were not strong enough to hold the attention of the audience, who chattered noisily throughout the set.

(While waiting for him to arrive on stage I read through a profile on his website. Alarm bells started ringing when I read the following: “He also admits that he doesn’t have a library of great music and if he ever attends a concert he will leave after half an hour since he knows exactly where it’s going.” Indeed.)

Fortunately the final act of the night were his fellow Belgians Fùgù Mango, whose music was billed as “indie pop and afrobeat”. They immediately had the crowd hopping (possibly with relief) with their happy melodies and joy-filled performance. The four members – three of whom sang – were lined up along the front of the stage, with guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and a selection of percussion instruments. Their sound reminded me of both Foster the People (of Pumped Up Kicks fame) and a slightly poppier Yeasayer.

They played a very solid hour during which the energy levels never dropped. For an encore the two vocalists climbed down into the crowd, handing out a selection of shakers, to sing one final song with the audience on backing vocals. After the energy-sapping experience of Kris Dane before them, it was a warmly wonderful way to end the evening. I’d definitely like to see them live again.

I can’t find a live video that quite captures their energy, but here’s one nice performance from earlier this summer:

I should mention that the first act of the evening was Pandour, a pair of DJs from Fribourg. They were accompanied by a couple of guitarists, but their music – described as “deep orientalist and electro-acoustic” – wasn’t my cup of tea. I hesitate to be too critical, as I know that I don’t really “get” a lot of what is done by DJs like this. I found it all a bit boring, but there were definitely people there who were really into it.

I’ll definitely go to JVAL again in the years ahead. It’s a cool little festival and even the 1 out of 3 hit rate for me on Saturday was enough to make it worthwhile.

Beirut / GOASTT – For Noise, Pully – 21.08.2014

I had wanted to see Beirut live for a long time and was really looking forward to this one. While they tend to get mentioned in the same breath as other indie-folk-rock bands like Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver, their sound is quite unique. Brass instruments are to the fore, with trombone and a pair of trumpets (one played by the lead singer) featuring in most songs and even a sousaphone making the odd appearance here and there. But it’s the very talented accordionist that is the musical heart of the band, something that wasn’t so obvious to me until I saw them live.

Beirut at For Noise 2014

Their use of brass takes in many different musical styles along the way: from Mexican mariachi to English colliery bands, via German oompah music and through various European classical styles, with the aforementioned accordion giving it all a slightly Gallic feel.  And yet it still sits very well in the context of a rock festival. They played most of their most recent album The Rip Tide and quite a bit from The Flying Cup Club, along with one or two new songs that bode well for a future release. All in all it was a really enjoyable, uplifting and musically impressive performance.

Earlier that evening the main stage featured Sean Lennon’s latest project GOASTT (The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger). This was (oddly) a little like a homecoming gig for him, as he had attended the very expensive Le Rosey boarding school just down the lake in Rolle and some of his old school-friends were in attendance. He spoke in French between almost every song and came across as quite a nice chap.

Sean Lennon at For Noise 2014

He looks and sounds A LOT like his famous dad, and the sound of the band was generally quite Beatles-ish, sometimes very much so. (I thought they were about to launch into a version of Because at one stage.) It’s not unusual, of course, nor is it a bad thing for a band to sound like they’ve been influenced by the Beatles, and perhaps Sean Lennon has a better excuse than most. Nonetheless, I think I was expecting him to have made more of an effort to distance himself from that legacy, at least musically.

It was nice to see that he has no airs and graces about him. I guess he’s as financially secure as the son of a Beatle would be, so he’s probably performing because that’s what he wants to do. I noticed that his band members packed away their own instruments and equipment after the set, so it looks like he’s running quite a modest musical operation. And, most importantly, the music itself was good, solid (Beatlesque) rock – very enjoyable.

The For Noise Festival is one of the many smaller rock festivals that take place in the Lac Léman region throughout the year. Pully is a suburb of Lausanne and the festival site is a wooded valley set a bit back from the lakeside. There’s just one main stage and a couple of small rooms with very small stages. It was my first visit, but won’t be my last: easy to get to, not too expensive (although not cheap either at CHF 60 for the evening) and much more intimate than, say, Caribana, which is itself much smaller than Paléo.

Here’s some footage of Beirut in concert. Nantes is probably their best known song.


Paléo Festival – Nyon – 22-27.07.2014

The wettest July ever around these parts apparently, so I was reasonably lucky to experience probably the only two rain-free evenings at Paléo 2014. I have the impression that, despite the rain and mud, it was a pretty good Paléo. I certainly enjoyed my two visits, on Thursday and Sunday, and Nadine heard some good music on Tuesday evening.

Most memorable for me was Elton John on Thursday night. He’s among the legends of pop music and I was keen to take the chance to see him live. At 67 one might expect him to be a lot less sprightly, but his piano playing was top notch and his voice remains strong, if not quite able to reach all the high notes. That latter problem was well handled with some subtle backing vocals from his percussionist, who drifted in and out as necessary, with Elton taking a lower road.

Elton John on the big screen at Paléo 2014

To hear the composer (but not lyricist, of course) of songs like Tiny Dancer, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rocket Man and so on perform them live was a real thrill, even from towards the back of the Grand Scène where I couldn’t really sing along as much as I wanted to. His band, as you’d expect, were very polished. He mentioned that many of them have been with him a long time – the drummer since 1969 – so you’d expect them to be pretty tight.

I wouldn’t have described myself as a big Elton John fan, but I realised that I knew just about all of the lyrics to the songs above, and many others, so I guess it seeped in during all those Saturday afternoons listening to Lorcan Murray on 2FM (“the latest hits, the greatest memories”) during my teenage years.

Also good on Thursday night was Lisa LeBlanc, a Canadian singing mostly in French (or an older French-Canadian dialect). She played her brand of punk-folk with a huge amount of energy and good humour. The packed Détour tent loved it. The video below isn’t indicative of her live performance, but this song in particular went down well.

The National were my main interest on Sunday’s programme, but I was a bit disappointed. They warmed up as the set went on, but I don’t think their music works so well on an outdoor festival stage. Also, the lead singer’s voice was clearly troubling him. It’s such an important element of their sound and so it took a lot from the performance for me. We saw them at Montreux in (I think) 2007, and it was an entirely different story – a much more assured show.

The National at Paléo 2014

Still, it was good to see them live again and, partly thanks to the singer’s two possibly ill-advised treks deep into the crowd during the last two songs, they did get the crowd going eventually. I’m not sure the security staff or the roadies were all that happy though.

Aside from that I caught a half hour of Placebo (I’m not a fan, but they certainly made a big sound that seemed to go down well with the crowd), some of Youssou N’Dour’s set (not as much fun as I had expected) and, back on Thursday night, a few songs from La Rue Ketanou (Manu Chao-infused street music – an entertaining show).

We also brought the kids along on Sunday. The fact that we live a 15-minute cycle away made it possible to take them home as evening fell and (for me at least) come back again to catch more music. I think it was a nice thing to do, but I think we’ll probably wait a few years before doing it again. They get free entry until they turn 12, so plenty of time!

First family outing at Paléo

Paléo Festival – Nyon – 17-22.07.2012

I’ve been intending to write a post about the Paléo Festival, given that gig reviews have made up a large portion of my posts in the past. Paléo is a six day music and arts festival that takes place in the town of Nyon, mid-way between Geneva and Lausanne. It’s a really nice festival: great food, clean toilets, and lots going on aside from the music. In fact, a lot of people go there each year and don’t watch any music at all. The line-up doesn’t often have artists that are right on the crest of the wave – a lot on the way up, but more often they’re established acts that aren’t as popular as they once were. There are usually a few gems though.

I was there on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this year, meaning that I missed out on Bon Iver, The Cure and Rodrigo y Gabriela, among others. I spent a lot of time wandering from stage to stage and heard a lot of bands that did nothing for me. But there were a few highlights.

On Tuesday night I was blown away by Camille, a French chanteuse who used to sing with Nouvelle Vague. I bought her Music Hole album a few years back but couldn’t get into it at all. I now realise that you have to see her perform live to “get” her. Such amazing energy, a really talented backing band, and some very entertaining songs. The a capella singing was fantastic too. I’ll revist Music Hole to see whether it makes more sense now – and I definitely want to see her live again.

Elsewhere on Tuesday Manu Chao and Franz Ferdinand did their thing. Nothing particularly exciting from either of them, but they kept the crowds entertained.

On Thursday I had been curious to see Sting live for the first time. He didn’t disappoint. It was as smooth a performance as you’d expect from such a talented musician and songwriter. He played plenty of the hits – quite a few Police songs and lots of songs from Ten Summoner’s Tales. All very middle of the road of course, but as I’ve said before, the middle of the road is sometimes where you want to be. I was impressed that he spoke in French throughout the set, which was much appreciated by the crowd. He seemed like a genuinely good guy – warm and funny. I’m glad I had the chance to see him.

Saturday night had a lot of familiar (to me) names, including Garbage, The Kooks and Bloc Party. The latter were the most impressive of these, really getting the crowd in the Chapiteau tent going. I thought I’d enjoy them more myself, but realised as I watched them that I don’t often choose to listen to them and haven’t really gotten into their albums. The Kooks were much more enjoyable for me, if nothing particularly special. Their hits are very catchy and the newer stuff that I didn’t know worked quite well (other than a ridiculous song called something like Do You Want To Make Love  To Me). Garbage were on their first tour after a seven year break. They made a pretty good sound but their newer material didn’t really seem to be hitting home with the crowd.

All in all I didn’t have the impression that it was a vintage year for Paléo. Then again, I’ve missed the last three years, so I’m not well placed to judge that. Hopefully next year’s line-up will deliver a little more interest.