FolkWorld Live Review 8/2003 by Michael Moll
As one of the old established bands of the Canadian folk music scene, La Bottine Souriante became internationally famous when they added some 10 years ago a brass section to their up to then more typical folk band line-up. Since then, they have often been described as the best live band in the world. Hardly noticed by the press (and not even properly announced on the La Bottine Souriante website), this wonderful band has gone through a major line-up change. One of their first gigs in the new line-up was at the Sidmouth International Festival this August. I decided to pay a visit, on my way back from a Devon holiday...
So what has happened in this latest and most significant line-up change? Both La Bottine Souriante's icon and lead singer/musician Yves Lambert (the one with the hat, accordion and funny dialect), and one of the musical geniuses of the band, Michel Bordeleau (fiddle, string instruments and sitting stepping) have left the band, being replaced by two young musicians, Pierre-Luc Dupuis and Éric Beaudry. The rest of the line-up remains unchanged: André Brunet (fiddle, guitar, vocals); Pierre « Pedro » Belisle (piano, piano accordion), Régent Archambault (acoustic and electric bass), and the four piece brass section, part of La Bottine since 1990, featuring Jean Fréchette (saxophone and arrangements), Robert «Bob» Ellis (bass trombone), André Verreault (trombone) and Jocelyn Lapointe (trumpet). Plus finally dancer Sandy Silva.
Obviously, there is a strong pressure on these two new lead musicians of the band. Purely listening to the music, the change might not be noticed to most people - the instruments of the replacement musicians are the same as of Yves and Michel, and even the voices are similar. They are excellent musicians, and the sound of La Bottine Souriante remains nearly as strong as ever. It is very obvious that these musicians have been chosen because they very much sound like the old lead musicians, while other criteria took a less important role.
The live performance has lost significantly - to replace Yves Lambert, the unique key character of the band, is difficult enough. However, the burden was fully laid upon Pierre, who simply could not fill the gap, and seemed also a bit uneasy in this role. Even though he had no hat, it seemed like he tried to imitate the gestures and even the dialect of Yves Lambert (and, of course, failed), instead of trying to be himself and developing his own style. Similarly Éric; the replacement of Michel Bordeleau, did not take a centre position on stage.
This means that the band did not have a central figure. This can be fair enough, as it might create more of a band experience, where all musicians have an equally important role. However, in this case, the band lost the communication with the audience. One of the strength of the old La Bottine Souriante had been the combination of magnificent music, plenty of movement on stage and the communication with the audience. This is what made them the best band in the world. They still do have magnificant music and plenty of movement, but at the moment the communication with the audience is very weak.
The new line-up is still very new, and time should be allowed for the new musicians to settle, and for the band to reinvent their performance. However, if they want to keep their fabulous image, they will need to work hard to get things right.
La Bottine Souriante are still a brilliant band, with inspiring, enthusing and terrific music; and the audience in Sidmouth was enthusiatic enough about their appearance. However, the concert did not present the best live band in the world. Hopefully, they will get back to this reputation soon.
A review of the old line up of La Bottine Souriante can be found in FolkWorld issue 8
Artist's homepage: http://www.millepattes.com/Anglais/bottine/
Photo Credit: Press photo of La Bottine in their new line-up.
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