Growing up in the UK, I recall the popularity of the festive musical variety shows televised each December – often hosted by a personality who would perform tunes, recite monologues, collaborate with guests, and yield the stage at key moments when special guests were granted the spotlight. An annual tradition in our household during the holidays, family would often sit collectively around the television set to enjoy these specials.
My earliest recollection of these television specials dates back to the 1980s, with host Des O’Connor being adored by my mother at that time. Progressing into the 1990s, I’m pretty sure that popular comedian and game show host Michael Barrymore would carry the torch for a few years – at least until the arrival of the internationally acclaimed musical icon Michael Bublé – who singlehandedly raised the bar with his Christmas specials, and who quickly became my mother’s favorite personality each and every holiday season since.
We have been following the French chanson/orchestral pop music career of Alma, QC musician Pierre Lapointe for many years now, but had never been fortunate enough to catch one of his shows in person. Once our plans to spend US Thanksgiving in Montréal were finalized earlier this year, we soon discovered that Pierre’s winter themed “Chansons hivernales” tour would open at Théâtre de la Ville in Longueuil. Being just a stone´s throw across the St. Lawrence river, we could not miss this opportunity to finally connect with the artist.
As the auditorium lights dimmed and the stage curtains opened, the joint winter and holiday theme was immediately evident, as giant decorative snowmen adorned the sides, background, and were even found hanging over the stage area. Even the stage lighting presented a red and white candy cane theme. Festive indeed. Accompanied by a five-piece band for the majority of the show, and with the frequent addition of a brass duo and a four-string quartet, the bright-red-holiday-sweater-clad Pierre Lapointe was welcomed enthusiastically to the stage by the packed house.
Opening with a comedic monologue, and brief forays into song, those childhood memories of British holiday specials came flooding back, reinforced frequently throughout this solid 1 hour and 50-minute performance as the host adhered perfectly to the formula – taking the lead with many of his own compositions, whilst yielding the spotlight to duet or add harmonies as musical guests rotated in and out all evening. As the main attraction, however, Pierre deserved the sole spotlight to open the show, digging immediately into his “Chansons hivernales” material to perform “Toutes les couleurs,” before progressing into a lively and crowd-pleasing interpretation of “C’est Noël rock” (Jingle Bell Rock).
With the room more than warmed up and raring to go, Pierre would gradually reveal his surprise guests throughout the course of the show – many of them remaining on stage for several tunes adding backing vocals and/or additional instrumentation. Introduced as the first of four guest artists, Mélissa Laveaux delivered a delightful solo calypso-Caribbean themed number, before sharing the spotlight with Pierre for a duet of “Noël Lougawou” – complete with a stunning drum and piano intro to set the tone.
With the arrival of the string quartet, Pierre progressed into a pair of album tracks, “L’oiseau rare” and “Chez clara,” the latter offering a fabulous 40s era sound complete with jazz-fueled horns and a terrific beat. Guests would continue to rotate in and out, including popular JUNO Award nominee Patrice Michaud, Polaris Music Prize nominee Laura Niquay, and television personality/musician Mitsou. Offering an intense performance of her country-rock hit “Bye Bye Mon Cowboy,” the addition of holiday jingles and riffs from the band sprinkled plenty of festive flavor and flair as Mitsou’s song progressed.
As the show wound down, Pierre would deliver an outstanding rendition of “Maman, Papa,” accompanied by some moving strings and piano for this current interpretation of a song based on his original 2011 hit single “Maman.” Kicking off a two-song encore performance, Pierre would first thank each and every one of the musicians participating in this show, before closing with a beautifully slowed down version of his 2006 masterpiece, “Deux par deux rassemblés.”
With the full complement of musicians raring to send everybody home on a musical high, Pierre returned one final time to his winter themed album, and rocked the room with “Ce qu’on sait dejà” – the brass dominating once again to add a timeless holiday-jazz sound that successfully brought the crowd to their feet, clapping, singing, and hollering to close out the night. A spectacular close to a show that brought those childhood memories flooding back – and you know, Pierre could quite easily transition this seasonal special to a television set near you if given the chance.
Photo Credit: Official Poster – Artist Website