Synopsis: Filmed by Quebec’s own Parce Que Films in Montreal’s simple and elegant venue Gésu in front of a sold out crowd, this is a must-have for any Slean fan. Own a piece of her live experience at last!
Feast your eyes on a beautiful stage with extraordinary lighting from Alex Langlois…
Feast your ears on the gorgeous sounds of a string octet, concert bass, tasteful drums, piano and soaring vocals – mixed by legendary audio wizard David Bottrill…
Feast your soul on the lyrics, the exquisite playing, vibe, and the energy of both musicians and audience… this is the sheer magic of live music!
Sarah Slean: Land and Sea Live in Montreal 8.25
eyelights: Sarah Slean’s gorgeous voice. Sarah Slean’s quirky persona. Sarah Slean’s songcraft.
eyesores: the editing.
As you read this, I’m seeing Sarah Slean live for the third time; though my first experience was a three-song opening set for Alanis Morissette, back in 2004, my first real concert was at the Amphithéâtre du Gesù in Montréal, Québec, on Saturday, April 5, 2014.
It was amazing.
The only reason I was even in attendance is because she’d announced (via email) that the concert was to be filmed for a DVD release, and that she’d put together a small string section for the occasion. That was very enticing, so I made sure to get my tickets.
I’d been a fan of hers since I discovered ‘Night Bugs’, her 2002 masterpiece (a signed ‘Night Bugs’ poster still adorns my walls at home). Though her subsequent albums never equalled its deliciousness and playfulness, every effort has been strong, if not stellar.
I had to be there. I had been completely won over by her stage presence in 2004: she was brought in as a last-minute replacement and yet she was funny, quirky and incredibly endearing. She completely stole the show from Alanis with only a three-song overture.
I was enamoured with her.
The 2014 Montréal show was in support of her then-most recent effort, 2011’s ‘Land and Sea’, a superb double disc which was my second-favourite album of hers thus far. At the Gesù, she was backed by a string octet as well as a bassist, a drummer and a vocalist.
While the opening act, The Seasons, an indie band from the Québec area, is not featured on the DVD release, Sarah Slean’s performance, in which she covers songs from across the breadth of her catalogue, is captured in full on ‘Land and Sea Live in Montreal’.
After some quick greetings, the 80-minute show began with one of her classics, “Duncan”, culled from ‘Night Bugs’. It was the perfect opening number, embellished as it was by the string section. Awash in streams of light on the darkened stage, Slean positively glowed.
Slean wore black pants and a black wrap that left her shoulders bare and arms free. The pair were separated by a wide leather belt joined in the middle by a metallic V. Naturally, eschewing formalities, she walked around barefoot when she transitioned across the stage.
Slean’s piano was at the back left, allowing the string section to take center stage in a semi-circle formation. This left an open space in front for Slean to come down from her piano and sing on a couple of occasions – one of which found her back-up singer on the keys.
Most of the show was dimly lit, with rays of white light breaking the darkness. It created a fantastical, if not magical, atmosphere – which is perfectly appropriate for the music and arrangements. In the shadows, Slean’s smokey voice danced from note to note.
The agility with which she shifted from high to low ranges, soaring and lilting at will, was incredibly moving; it was so breathtakingly beautiful to see and hear. She was in perfect form and in her element, basking in and obviously savouring the moment.
She frequently addressed the audience, regaling them with anecdotes or musings to better situate the songs. She remained real throughout, self-deprecating frequently, mocking the audience’s reactions with “She is so weird!” and poking fun at encore clichés.
Sarah Slean is self-aware, funny and lovely, with make her hard to resist. She’s brainy, too, as evidenced by her lyrics. Some of them are profound, such as “The Cosmic Ballet”, others are just really clever, such as the lines in “Napoleon”, her only political song.
Though it’s not my favourite song of hers, “Napoleon” was one of the show’s highlights for me, with the dramatic build-ups of the upright bass and string crescendos. “Be careful with metaphors” and “Don’t get high on your only horse” always get chuckles out of me.
Another favourite of mine was the first encore song (after a tongue-in-cheek three seconds away from the stage), “Society Song”; it’s another of her more interesting -if critical- observations but it’s wrapped in a more upbeat arrangement than many of her other songs.
For this one, she got the audience to participate, getting the right side to sing one part of the chorus and the left to sing the other. The song alone is a delight, but having everyone involved in it was an inspired move, especially after her “return” to the stage.
The setlist was perfectly-crafted to create a flowy vibe: it started a bit light, became atmospheric, perked up with a playful number, became contemplative before punching things up at the end and to open the encore, then took us for a soft landing. It was brilliant.
Colour me totally impressed.
This was a superb concert. I had to travel to see it, but I’m very glad that I did. I can’t imagine that Sarah Slean is ever not good (I’m probably under her spell right now, in fact), but she was in fine form that evening. She clearly put a lot of energy into making it special.
If I have any complaints about the DVD, though, it’s that a couple of the in-between song pauses seem to have been edited (as suggested by the abrupt ending of the crowd’s claps), arresting the flow of the performance. I don’t recall the crowd being so uneffusive.
Obviously, I would have preferred the relive the show unblemished.
Still, I very much enjoyed being able to revisit this once-in-a-lifetime experience, hanging onto every note from Slean’s seductive voice and ivories, relishing this unique artist’s every quirk. I was there. And I can return to that moment as frequently as I wish to.
When the DVD was finally released in December of 2014, after a few production delays, 50 autographed copies were available. Lucky me: I was fortunate enough to snatch one. I can promise you that this show will forever remain a cherished addition to my collection.
Date of viewing: July 6, 2017