During its sound check in Kansas City, I could faintly hear Caravan Palace play what sounded like “Rock it For Me” as I asked Violinist Hugues Payen what the message was of its version of “Black Betty.” Caravan Palace returns to Chicago’s House of Blues Saturday just one year after its last visit with us, to continue its Robot Face or <I°_°I> , tour.
Payen points out that all listeners have a take on the original song, from the image of throwing back whisky, to allusions to the whip in the slavery era. But, Payen said, “It’s not just to give a message; that’s not what we do best. The intention is to take that very old song…that went through all of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. When we play it live, we can see the eyes of the public wake up suddenly.”
Caravan Palace is a French electro-swing group made up of Payen, Vocalist Zoé Colotis, Upright Bass Player Charles Delaporte, Guitarist Arnaud Vial, Trombonist and Machinist Antoine Toustou, Percussionist Paul-Marie Barbier and Clarinetist Camille Chapelière.
Payen shared that the objective for Caravan Palace is not to necessarily convey a message like many bands aim to do. He described the Caravan Palace concept as one that aims only to make us dance, by mixing the sounds of the new with “uh, significant things…I don’t know how to say that,” he chuckled.
“We want to find a way to make people dance without being necessarily -” he paused, adding, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the word in English…décalé.” I translated the word via Google, and according to Payen’s description, “décalé” describes something without strict direction or purpose. The goal is to make the audience dance without any known purpose.
But I beg to differ. Caravan Palace has given me purpose since I last saw them at the House of Blues, in that this is what music should be. It reminds me of my violinist grandpa and the grin he wore whenever he entertained his guests with beautiful Argentinian Tango songs, my aunt singing along. And the band’s tireless touring and performances of songs that are nothing less than intricate reflects on the person each one of the band members is. Colotis continues to throw her feet and arms around smoothly as not only the singer in performance, but also the front swing dancer.
Caravan Palace is bringing this electro-swing, Django Reinhardt inspired sound to venues across the United States for the second time in a year, and it’s understood and loved widely. That is so much so that Payen calls us, his fans, the family of Caravan Palace, having spent almost two entire years touring between the U.S. and Europe.
“Sometimes we can see some people of the public three or four times during the tour,” he said, adding, “They are family because we come for them every day and see them every day…it’s weird.” Caravan Palace fits in well with the Chicago music scene, whose fans connect as a community at concerts across the board of genres.
Since the last time we spoke, Payen said “Aftermath” remains his favorite song from Robot Face, and he described its unique quality during performances. “Nothing has changed because…we take time to say something to the public. For me, it’s the best moment…in the concert. And we play it after ‘Jolie Coquine,’ which is very exhausting, so it’s always a relief to play it. Not only because I have a solo in the song,” he laughed again. ‘Jolie Coquine,’ Payen said, is a French favorite.
This is the same reason you won’t hear my personal favorite, “Beatophone,” Saturday. Payen said two minutes is enough for the audience to take in the same sounds of a song, and “Beatophone” repeats the same motifs for just under four minutes. Caravan Palace wrote my favorite song when the band noticed the shine of the electro-swing genre in “Dramophone.”
He explained that its DJ mode quality is what prolongs the song and give it life in the earbuds, but “You don’t always have time to develop these things in a concert, unless you want people to sleep or to leave the venue,” Payen joked.
I think it’s safe to say that regardless how long the same motif plays by Caravan Palace, no one will be leaving the House of Blues Saturday, and no one will be falling asleep. If you aren’t fortunate enough to dance with this go-around in the Robot Face tour, anticipate an early 2018 return by Caravan Palace. Payen revealed that the relentless band has begun writing its next album, and will likely be back rather soon!