The music of legendary Canadian band Harmonium was alive and well on May 6th at Le Medley in Montreal, as Premier Ciel paid tribute to this classic band in front of more than 1000 fans, including Sea of Tranquility's Yves Dubé.
Read on for Yves' full report of a night of 70's styled progressive rock!
The 70s proved to be very fertile soil for progressive rock in Québec. Dozens of bands appeared and were lost into obscurity during this tumultuous decade in La Belle Province. Some bands did manage to become rooted in terra firma and left an indelible print on the music scene, not just at home, but internationally. At the vanguard of this musical onslaught was Harmonium. Born as a trio playing primarily a complex folk-inspired rock, the band became a full-blown progressive rock machine by it's third album, L'Heptade, a quintessential conceptual masterpiece. The changing political climate in the province and group leader Serge Fiori's refusal to play "the corporate game" saw the band disappear as the decade came to a close. The music, however, lived on in the hearts of the Québécois people, with many tracks becoming cultural anthems that got regular radio play in the years and decades that followed. Many troubadours would include one or several of the band's timeless classics in their sets and the choruses could be heard seeping through the windows of crowded boites à chansons throughout the province. It only stood to reason that eventually some musicians would want to explore the band's music in greater detail, and a few cover bands were born. Only one received the official sanction from Serge Fiori to pursue the Harmonium sound to it's fullest extent. That tribute band goes by the name of Premier Ciel. On May 6,2005, I joined a sell out crowd of well over 1000 people to celebrate the legacy of Harmonium. I shared a table with people from diverse points across North America such as Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, demonstrating that the music of Harmonium traveled well beyond the Québec border.
The crowd in front of Le Medley
The packed house waited patiently until 10:00 PM when the house lights went out (well, most of the house lights) and the musicians who represent the core trio of Harmonium stepped onto the stage and started the first of 2 sets with "Aujourd'hui Je Dis Bonjour A La Vie". The PA system seemed set up for the full septet so the opening, mostly acoustic numbers weren't loud enough to fully drown out the murmurs of a Friday night Montreal crowd, still a little hyper from a long week's toil. In a constant effort to expand their catalogue, the band threw in a new wrinkle by performing "De La Chambre Au Salon". Aside from a slight error by the lead guitar during a chord progression and a singing voice which may not have been suitably warmed up and strained through some intricate vocal passages, the song went over well and the band got an enthusiastic round of applause. With that first hurdle crossed, the band hit their stride with "100,000 Raisons" (a track which was never released until the first CD pressings of the debut disc). This track gave way to the monster hit "Pour Un Instant" where the crowd could be heard singing along in unison. The mostly acoustic set continued for a couple of more tracks until the rest of the band members gradually took to the stage. The piano was introduced for the melancholic "Vielles Courroies" and the excellent reeds player appeared for a very upbeat rendition of "Dixie", which had some audience members on their feet (this is easily the best track of the first set). The band then launches into the highly popular "Harmonium", complete with fugelhorn and alto sax. Thus ends set I.
With almost every track from their debut album already played, set II was shaping up to be much more "progressive" as it concentrated on Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinqieme Saison, and L'Heptade. The set opens with a sample of the strings intro and then the band actually launches into "Comme Un Fou". The full septet is on stage and we get our first taste of the band firing on all cylinders. The set changes pace abruptly with "Le Corridor" where the lovely and talented female pianist steps up to her Fender Rhodes and croons delicately. From here we are catapulted into "Les 5 Saisons" with " Depuis L'Automne", " En Pleine Face", and "Vert" all played in a row (the band is very close to adding "Histoires Sans Paroles" to their repertoire). Of the 3 tracks, "Vert" is particularly exceptional as the vocal harmonies are executed flawlessly. The set just keeps getting stronger as the band saved the best for last. Their version of "Chanson Noire" resembles the version from the live En Tournée more than the original studio version. The musicians, most notably the reeds player, get to stretch out a little bit. Before the audience can catch it's breath, the band rips into their closer (and the very best track they performed the entire evening), the sensational "Le Premier Ciel". Again this one seems to go beyond the studio version and contains some truly inspired keyboard solos. The band leaves the stage to a standing ovation.
Sylvain De Carufel
The band's first encore is a bit of a surprise. "Viens Danser" is not a Harmonium track per se , but rather was born from the L'Heptade leftover sessions and was released on the Serge Fiori/ Richard Séguin collaborative project entitled Deux-Cents Nuits A L'Heure. It's a very strong number featuring an assortment of percussive instruments. The band then plays the track many people were waiting for. "Un Musicien Parmi Tant D'Autres" has the very loosened up crowd singing loudly. The band takes it's final curtain call and a very satisfying evening of music comes to an end.
A few of us hung around after the show and certain band members came over to our section for an introduction and a brief conversation. The group is still relatively young and wants to get better. Their manager is open to suggestions and feedback concerning how the band could reach out to the progressive rock community outside Québec. The band is working hard to master Harmonium's complete discography in order to be able to stage various shows which could be better geared towards audiences in the USA (California seems to be a priority as this fly on the wall overheard). However, for now, the mountain must come to Mohammed. I invite Harmonium fans from all over to try to get to Southern Québec and give these guys the kind of support which allowed another fledgling tribute band to go on to international acclaim. No, this is not the theatrical extravaganza that The Musical Box is, but this music would not be properly suited to that treatment. This is a very emotional and visceral musical time-warp whose orchestrators will only get better by repeat performances.
- Aujourd'hui, Je Dis Bonjour A La Vie
- De La Chambre Au Salon
- 100,000 Raisons
- Pour Un Instant
- Attends Moi
- Si Doucement
- Vieilles Courroies
- Comme Un Fou
- Le Corridor
- Depuis L'Automne
- En Pleine Face
- Chanson Noire
- Le Premier Ciel
- Viens Danser
- Un Musicien Parmi Tant D'Autres
Photos courtesy of Bruno Lussier