All photos by Elif Geris/Third Coast Review
Caravan Palace made the House of Blues Chicago floor bounce for the second consecutive year of Robot Face. There were times that I felt nervous my toes would be trampled, but I was too full of bliss, that I was watching and hearing one of my favorite live bands again, to dwell.
Despite a broken down bus, and a late arrival that rendered the band entirely unable to carry out a sound check, Caravan Palace exceeded its audience’s expectations. Following its opening song, “Comics,” Vocalist Zoé Colotis expressed doubt in the quality of sound due to the band’s late arrival. But no lack of quality was apparent Saturday night.
The band promises an evening of joy and excitement, of neglect towards the harsh realities of the day. And Caravan Palace, a combination of Violinist Hugues Payen, Colotis, Upright Bass Player Charles Delaporte, Guitarist Arnaud Vial, Trombonist and Machinist Antoine Toustou, Percussionist Paul-Marie Barbier and Clarinetist Camille Chapelière, pulls through again.
The French electro-swing group transmitted high energy from the moment it hit the stage with “Comics,” to the very last moment of “Brotherswing,” the final song of the 2017 Robot Face set. And for that reason, this is a band whose performance is hard to get over. The band performed for around 90 minutes, and impressed those I had a chance to speak to in the crowd.
“This is a type of music unlike any other that I’ve ever heard. I’m excited just to get crazy and start dancing around,” said Laura, adding that she and her husband were visiting from St. Louis for this occasion alone.
While Caravan Palace puts on a spectacle that features a scat to perfection and swing dance choreography, it’s hard to feel satisfied no matter how long the performance. Caravan Palace leaves its audience wanting more, leaves its fans – both continuing and new – ready to literally “dance the night away.”
Chapelière sings us a mysterious song about “Midnight” with his saxophone in plain blue light on stage. The lighting makes it feel like a street late at night, and the chilling sound of the saxophone is what lures the audience, or those sitting safely in their homes, out to the dark, to understand where that sound and beauty originates. Chapelière wanders downstage, wielding his sax, and appearing from the dark shade. Here, he sings for us a melody that implores us not to be scared of the isolated moonlight, and to come closer.
Then, Chapelière’s instrument shrinks into an attack of echoing snaps of the fingers, blended with an unintelligible shouting, while still echoing strongly beneath all instrumental layers.
These moments are those that, while Payen and his band mates want us simply to enjoy the sounds and forget the big issue of the day, every individual instrument tells its own story through the band’s powerful and jarring compositions. For instance, Payen’s strike of the bow during the band’s performance of “Star Scat,” created an awakening jolt to end the show Saturday.
That’s an element unique to the band’s live productions. Each instrument is so clear and so effortlessly ripples through the House of Blues Chicago. And Colotis never skips a beat in her freestyle swing moves downstage. Vial looks as content as a chilled out guitarist playing on his stoop, in an alleyway of France, as his fingers do an urgent dance across the frets.
To be completely honest, this Caravan Palace concert – again – is the best concert I’ve attended this year. And that’s despite a number of similarities from last year’s tour to that of this year. I wanted to see Caravan Palace do what it so masterfully did last year.
And knowing that the band is set to release a new album in 2018, I can only imagine what nuances it will bring to the stage upon its return.
Not only is the sound of Caravan Palace unlike any other, as Laura said, but its relentless nature in performance, and in personality is an important component, too. While Payen owes the purpose of the band to the ability to inspire dance, Caravan Palace is a teacher of self-motivation.
Payen said that playing “Aftermath” directly following the fast, long “Jolie Coquine” is a moment to relax for the band. But Caravan Palace knows no rest. “Tattoos” is another booming, hyper song, and that follows “Aftermath” in the set. The band is already prepared to get its crowd jumping again. Colotis even mimics the predictable moves of a robot during that song, bringing irony to the fluid stage of Caravan Palace.
I hope to dance with you during the 2018 run, or reign, of Caravan Palace.