Friday, 7 July 2017

Caravan Palace Live Review - Syed goes weak at the knees

Syed could barely contain his excitement when one of the world's top electro-swing acts swung into his home town of Toronto.

Caravan Palace are one of the giants of Electro Swing who hail from Paris, France and have placed flags of their fame all over the world. One just can’t expect to buy a ticket on the day of the concert if you are going to watch Caravan Palace perform in your city. If you hear that Caravan Palace are coming to your city, you must buy tickets as soon as you get an internet access and a credit card.

A few months ago I heard that there would be a TD Toronto Jazz Festival during the months of June and July which sort of interested me because of my recent love of vintage music but I prefer a very specific sub-genre of jazz: swing music. Little did I know that Caravan Palace would be one of many performers participating in TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

Among my 500+ list of ‘friends’ on Facebook, only a few people seemed to show interest in the upcoming Festival. If I had not added the main vocalist of this band, Zonia, on my Facebook, I would not have known that Caravan Palace were coming to Toronto and were part of the festival. TD stands for Toronto-Dominion and it is one of the 5 major banks in Canada. If TD sponsors an event, it got to be worth it.

I was very excited. Caravan Palace had come to Toronto before but somehow I missed it. I purchased the ticket which was a pretty decent price considering how famous they are – just about three times expensive than a small regular Electro Swing night in Toronto. After buying the ticket, I found out that one my close friends (not just a Facebook ‘friend’) was also coming which got me even more excited and motivated. I think the excitement and motivation was a result of the fact that she was the only other brown person who knew what electro swing was!

I have been closely following Caravan Palace for almost 6 years and am well aware of their music style. Except a couple of songs, e.g. Beatophone, they don’t really rely on house beats to make their music known. Their use of vintage + modern instruments in a very inimitable way makes them really unique – some of the examples, which come to mind, are Rock It For Me, Jolie Coquine and Dramophone. Their music is also very vocal heavy and Zonia really can sing at any pace while the band members keep up with their live instruments.

Parking was impossible to find outside Toronto’s The Phoenix Concert Theater – where they were performing. After driving around aimlessly, I managed to find a spot after getting some assistance from a couple who also going to see Caravan Palace. However, they did not know what electro swing is [(!) Ed.]. When I entered the theater, I noticed hundreds of people standing and dancing to Benny Berigan’s Snake Charmer and, later, some songs by Parov Stelar. It was an empty stage and Caravan Palace, who were supposed to begin at 9:00pm, were still backstage. The standing crowd shouted for them while they danced to house beats being mixed by DJ Richard Medicineman – one of the few organizers of electro swing nights in Toronto who also runs Toronto Vintage Society.

Eventually, the seven-piece band appeared on the stage which was introduced by a host with the words including “electric sound” and “music from 1920s”. The term “electro swing” was never used and I wish it had been. This could have helped some of the unknown, but boundary-pushing, producers from all over the world. Oh well, I think it was still somewhat accurate description of Caravan Palace who can’t REALLY be called an electro swing band because of their musical style even though they are one of the most well-known among electro swing fans.

Despite I have been following their music for a long time and even have bought their CD from a now-closed called HMV, I could not recognize their first song. But, God, their performance was amazing! The DJ had a giant LED-based Caravan Palace’s logo in front of his cool and complicated equipment which lit up as the beat dropped or as the tune glitched (during Je M’Amuse). It really added to their performance I must say. Zonia was high on electro swing and gave a mind-blowing performance in every song she performed. There was even a slow Jazz track during which she sat on a chair with her legs crossed and basically turned on every person in the audience with her voice!

I had seen some of their live performances on YouTube and Rock It For Me probably has highest number of views. As soon as that classic swing tune began, I knew they were going to rock it for us. I literally yelled out, “Whooooo!” during the very sudden and unexpected quiet moment in the audience (while they waited for their next song to start but they were still quiet). Many people turned around and looked at me and I yelled out the next word, “Finally!” This was during the middle of their performance and the word “Finally” sort of expressed my frustration. I had gotten a bit disappointed by then. My disappointment was not due to their performance (which was out of this world throughout) but was with the use of really heavy house beats in almost every song. For ONE second I started to wonder what would happen if I had hacked their DJ equipment and played my really amateurish house track which I made in few minutes. I was sure that people would dance in the same way knowing Caravan Palace were standing in front of them even though my shitty beats would have been playing through their hacked system.

Rock It For Me had more jazz in it followed by their signature solo + pair swing/Lindy Hop/Charleston dance routine which they had done to this song around the world. The timing was exquisite and that was probably my favorite performance of the night. Later, the songs turned back to them singing-their-guts-out-while-band-members-played-their-hearts-out-through-not-so-dinstinctive-musical-instruments-but-people-only-danced-hard-when-the-beat-dropped.

All in all, it was still one of the best experiences of my life and the best experience since Swingrowers visited Toronto. People absolutely loved them and there was so much noise, when they did the final pose before leaving, that I was almost certain I had lost my hearing. People would not stop cheering for them and they deserved it I must say. It would have been nice if they had finished with Dramophone (their most celebrated song probably) and Lone Digger (one of the most famous electro swing tracks from last year) but they still finished it on a high and with audience full of insatiable energy.