I first heard about Canailles in the best way… through a friend who shared a link. I was mightily impressed but couldn’t find a way to buy their album outside of their home province of Quebec. Over the years I’ve kept an eye (and ear) open for them to no avail, but this year a random link led to another link which led to another…and there they were, performing at Toronto’s week-long art/music/interactive festival North by North East. So I wrangled a couple of friends to hit the Tranzac Club with me on the Thursday night of NxNE 2014 and I think they’re glad I did.
The stage was set with six members across and two more in the back. The singer/guitarists and singer/accordionists hit you first but the bass and drums are, as always, holding down the fort.
Canailles means, on the nicer end of the French translation spectrum, “rascal.” And that’s apt. The band is raspy but sweet, playful and serious, loud yet soft. And that’s just the music, because I have no idea what many of the lyrics mean (my French isn’t awful but they sing so darn fast).
The stage banter was also a bit hard to make out in French or accented English but the band was very enthusiastic and full of personality so it didn’t matter.
As such, a little post-show research was in order to get song titles straight. If I have any of this wrong, I apologize from the bottom of my heart.
I definitely heard “Parle-moi,” what I assume to be the single off their older album Manger du Bois. The song is peppered with spoon against washboard, harmonized voices of varying raspiness, and accordion. The crowd was small and a bit subdued but definitely into it.
I also believe I heard “Dans mon litte” which should translate to “In My Bed.” It starts out soft and sweet with a nice little banjo part, picks up with trading male and female lyrics, adds the other band members singing scat-style noises, soars into clapping and then winds back down with a tambourine flourish. I think it’s my favourite off Manger du Bois.
Another crowd favourite was probably “Texas” off the newer album Ronds-Points. It was introduced, a little clumsily, as having been written because one member got drunk and lost his passport on the way to the airport and therefore never made it to NXNE’s sister festival in Austin, TX, South by Southwest. Footage exists of the band singing the song in Texas, though, so this story may be a little ‘colourful.’ But I don’t mind. His growling recount of the tale grew to the chorus and just when we thought it was done and everyone sing-laughed it to a close, the band started the party back up. Clever.
While we weren’t all up and dancing the way we probably should have been, there were a lot of toes tapping and music being bought, and some very serious new fans looking to get them booked into the Winnipeg Folk Festival, especially with the big French population in town.
In the meantime, however, here’s a taste of the band in action, playing “Dimanche”: