Lisa Leblanc at the Biltmore Cabaret
By Kelsey Reimer
The Biltmore was on fire, and deep in the blazing centre of it all was Lisa Leblanc, grinning. The charismatic performer brought her unique style of ‘folk-trash’ to Vancouver and was welcomed by what appeared to be the entirety of the city’s Francophone community. Not to say that it was a language-defined event; the mix of Anglophones and Francophones melded into one crazed crowd singing, reminiscing, crying and celebrating together. “Franglish” was incorporated throughout most of the set, but I still felt like I should have paid more attention in French class (and frankly, ripped off that I hadn’t).
Leblanc began with a clear and melancholy whistle melody, stopping when she recognized a face in the audience: her first grade teacher. Cue heart wrenching moment number one. Leblanc then exploded into a super charged, high energy, kinetic set which saw her whirling around the stage like a dervish. In the eternal words of Wayne Campbell: “She wails.” And wail she did. Switching between guitar and the banjo, Leblanc and her accompanying band (Maxime Gosselin on drums, Jean-Philippe Hébert on guitar) whipped the eager audience into an Acadian frenzy. Arms were swinging and knees were high, and people only stopped dancing as Leblanc stopped playing, mostly to graciously thank the crowd and Vancouver for hosting her and her band. The tempo shifted with the traditional folk song “Katie Cruel,” with Leblanc giving a shout out to the legendary Karen Dalton who popularized the tune in the ‘60s. Leblanc’s version lent the same tenderness and heartache as Dalton’s, with a little more grit and dirt thrown in.
Leblanc then led a lesson in French, teaching all who were woefully lacking in the bilingual department the most important and crucial of Quebecois words: marde. In the rousing chorus of ‘Aujourd-hui, ma vie c’est d’la merde,’ the audience took perverse pleasure in singing, in translation, “today, my life is shit,” a “fuck it and whatever” type line which we can all reflect on and relate to. Certainly, in these lyrics lie Leblanc’s true talent: turning the ordinary and the mundane into the poetic and the universal. Her ability to find moments of melancholy in something as basic as eating Kraft Dinner allow her to strike deep into the soul and left many wet eyes.
The ultimate highlight of the night, after what will most certainly be regarded as classic tunes such as ‘You Look Like Trouble (But I Guess I Do Too)’ were played, was her encore. Drums started the percussion line to Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, except psych! because as Leblanc stepped onto stage my entire life was rendered complete as they launched into the best cover of Shania Twain’s ‘Any Man of Mine’ that has ever been played. Ever. Laughing, Leblanc yelled: “I can’t go lower that this, let’s just call it quits, merci!” The audience, of course, demanded one more, and Leblanc left it to a crowd-sourced plebiscite. What should she end her set with? Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades,’ of course.
Leblanc is one of the most charming and sincere performers touring today. From her outpour of love for the French Canadian community who came out to support her, the graciousness of her presence, and the intensity of her energy and spark of her humour, it is clear that her star is ascending. On a larger note, Leblanc signifies that perhaps there is something of value when considering this project of a greater Canada: her music, spirit, and love of both languages lends a strong argument to the unity of the nation, and asserts that perhaps this colonial project has indeed lent itself to the creation of something positive in the beauty and richness of spirit and culture that embodies itself within and throughout Leblanc.
Kelsey Reimer is the owner of 1,000 oddly-printed dresses and no hard currency.