Welcome to Montreal

Madeleine Peyroux

The 36th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival began about a week ago, on June 26, but for me the big fun didn’t begin until I rolled into town at around 6:30 last night. After depositing my bags in my hotel room, I dashed over to the press room, on the festival grounds, claimed my press credentials and a handful of tickets to shows I’d be attending during the next few evenings, then headed back to my room for a few slugs of red wine. With my mood properly adjusted to the festival—and festivities—at hand, I exited the hotel, sauntered across the plaza, where seemingly thousands of people milled about, checking out the free outdoor acts or simply soaking in the lively atmosphere, and entered the Maisonneuve Theatre, where the Franco-American singer Madeleine Peyroux, was scheduled to perform at 8.

As it turned out, Peyroux was preceded onstage by a charming Canadian trio, led by a guitar-playing singer-songwriter named David Myles. He was a funny guy. Talented, too. Clearly he was thrilled to be playing the festival—he said he’d been dreaming of doing so since he was 13—and his boyish enthusiasm beguiled everyone in the packed house. Ultimately he and his trio proved a bit less polished than Peyroux and the two superb musicians who accompanied her on bass and guitar, but for my money Myles was the more engaging, compelling performer. He lacked Peyroux’s seriousness and perhaps her depth of feeling, as well, but his performance was more spirited and the original songs he played were first-rate and swinging.

For her part, Peyroux began with a country chestnut, Hank Williams’ 1953 hit “Take These Chains From My Heart,” and followed that up with a straightahead version of “Bye, Bye Love,” popularized by The Everly Brothers in 1958. I had listened to Peyroux’s music on CD before, but I’d never seen her perform. Onstage, she’s low-key, unassuming. Her delivery could rightly be called plaintive, but there’s a certain lilt in her voice that makes it sound like no one else’s. It really grabs your ear. Peyroux has a longstanding relationship with the Festival here that began two decades ago, and clearly the crowd in the Maisonneuve Theatre was glad to have her back.

As for me, I’m glad to be back in Montreal. Tonight I’m going to skip the jazz and opt instead to see a trip bill of Americana artists headlined by the great Lucinda Williams. I’ll let you know how that goes in my next post. Until then au revoir.

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