Back in the days of "real" radio, Montreal-based radio station CKVL-FM used to put on a progressive rock concert series entitled Performances. On January 31st, 1974, the show was a double-bill featuring a British band called Gentle Giant (you might have heard of them…) and a local band called Contraction. Technical problems delayed GG's set so that Contraction only started playing at 1:00AM. The band played their set and promptly forgot all about it. Fast forward 35 years and the band was presented with a digital version of this recording which the folks at ProgQuébec quickly released to the public for the first time ever. So, like the Dead Sea Scrolls of québecois progressive rock, Contraction Live 1974 is revealed in all its glory! 9 live tracks, including 3 previously unreleased ones, and a 10th track which is an instrumental, in studio version of one of the unreleased numbers make up this very impressive disc.
It begins with a slight twist. We recognize the melody of "Le Chant Patriotique" from the band's eponymous debut disc, but Christiane starts singing in English! In only takes a few seconds to get acclimated to it, however. She has such a strong and lovely voice and her English is flawless so it's as if the song had always been sung this way. The band follows suit with "Le Chat Bruinne" and everything is as it should be. Ms Robichaud is singing in her native French. But halfway through, she switches to English again. I'm not sure if these songs were originally penned in English or if this was an attempt at some sort of mass appeal, but it works beautifully in either language. When a band is this good, it's barely noticeable. The next track is one of the previously unreleased numbers. "Solid Shine" is a beautiful slice of 1970s AM radio pop. It's up-tempo, extremely short and shows the band under a different light than the more pastoral sounds we've heard on their studio releases. This track leads into another previously unreleased song. "Le Temps Qui Fuit Comme Une Ombre" is a track that should have found its way onto the band's second album La Bourse Ou La Vie. It's a sprawling instrumental number that seems to have a lot in common with the title track to the band's second release. The musicians start stretching things out a bit and we get our first real glimpse at just how tight this band could be. Denis Farmer (drums) and Yves Laferrière (bass) form as formidable a rhythm section as any ever to hail from Québec. This number makes that plain for all to hear. Although I called it an instrumental piece, Christiane Robichaud does lend her voice as an additional instrument as her vocals soar majestically over the musicians.
The following three numbers are from the band's debut disc and stay fairly faithful to the original versions, with the exception of "Trois Ou Quatre" which seems to have a little more muscle, especially during a stretched out middle portion, where Robert Lachapelle's Fender Rhodes comes to the forefront. This brings us the concert's final number, the band's magnus opus "La Bourse Ou La Vie". Clocking in just a shade under 18 minutes, this is the band's signature progressive rock anthem. And let me tell you, the band truly delivers the goods live! The opening 7:30 are some of the most beautiful music ever to come out of Québec, be it prog or otherwise. The musicians have loosened up their chops on the previous numbers and dive into this one head-on. Christiane's voice has never sounded so angelic! One little caveat may be that the words are non-existent during the song's apogee. Ms Robichaud merely croons the melody to "La Bourse Ou La Vie 2e Partie", which sounds wonderful but doesn't pack exactly the same punch as the studio version. I got it from a reliable source that the lyrics probably weren't written at the time. This concert was recorded before the second studio album was released, after all. This is merely nitpicking on my part however. The live rendition of this magnificent song is absolutely sublime and a fitting ending to an excellent concert. The folks at ProgQuébec saw fit add an instrumental studio version of "Sagesse" to round out the CD yet it's merely for completists and may be considered superfluous.
There is no such thing as the perfect album so how can reviewers give perfect scores? It is no secret how I feel about this band. Just go read my other reviews of their studio releases to see for yourselves. This record warrants at least 4.5 stars based on the material itself. Add to that the fact that this laid buried somewhere for 35 years only to surface now, and that's worth an extra .5 stars. Contraction is a band that disappeared well before their time. To be able to hear them play this material live, recorded professionally, and given that little extra 'TLC' that ProgQuébec are known for makes this one essential for any and every fan of Québecois progressive rock of the 70s.
- We Made It (3:37)
- Le Chat Bruinne/Star-Child (5:14)
- Solid Shine (Unreleased track) (1:53)
- Le Temps Qui Fuit Comme Une Ombre( Unreleased track) (9:08)
- Trois Ou Quatre (5:37)
- 42 Nord (1:46)
- Pixieland (3:23)
- Sagesse (Unreleased track) (3:22)
- La Bourse Ou La Vie (17:48)
- BONUS TRACK: Sagesse (Unreleased Instrumental Studio Version) (3:27)