When I thought of the kind of concert where you’d hear loud, pumping dance music, I definitely didn’t have this image in mind. Bored, awkward white people stood around and talked, drinking from plastic cups full of beer while loud dance music played in the background. Little attention was paid to Jesse Walker and Johnny Pepp, both local DJs who were spinning some excellent house jams for the first couple hours of the show. Granted, both of them stepped up to the sound booth with nothing more to announce their set than darkness and increased volume. Even the lights were set to a static low blue glow, with no movement whatsoever. People kept asking me when the show would start, and the absurd volume at which they had to yell the question seemed to make the answer obvious. The whole crowd was just standing around and talking, so the din of conversation easily beat out the music’s decibel level. Almost like the DJ was more of an inconvenience. Sure, one or two people stepped onto the dance floor to show their moves, but for the most part, everyone was just clumping up around the sides.
The crowd kept filtering in, and every so often you would see a couple folks who looked like they had heard about this thing called the ’20s, but didn’t really have a clear idea of what anyone looked like back then. It was like an unintentional fashion show featuring dressed-down steampunks and their nanna’s old jewelry. Even with the venue filling up, the dance floor appeared conspicuously empty. It wasn’t until two dudes decked out in suspenders planted themselves on the front row that people started edging in towards the stage. Moments later, Camille Chapelière stepped up to the mic and gave it a quick check. A tide of mismatched wardrobes immediately flowed into the area in front of the stage, accompanied by scattered squeals and screams from the more excited members of the crowd.
Then the members of Caravan Palace took the stage, and their arrival completely changed the vibe in the place. Instead of the lame buzz of meaningless conversation, everyone took immediate notice and started jumping to the beat. Some people danced with friends and strangers in the back, while the dance floor crowd looked like they belonged to a different concert than the one I had just been witnessing. In all fairness, Caravan Palace brought a whole new level of dancey goodness to the venue that night.
The band’s manouche jazz stylings fit eerily well with the overwhelming power of the electronic drum and bass, and at times their organic instrumentation served as the rhythmic counterpoint to a driving dance beat. The six members of their group took up the entire stage with their equipment, with virtually everyone rotating through an impressive arsenal of instruments. Charles Delaporte strummed a groovy bassline on his electric standup bass whenever he wasn’t on synth duty, while Hugues Payen juggled a violin, keyboard and vocal duty. On “Suzy,” Zoé Colotis and Payen got into a pretty impressive scat battle, going well beyond the recording I was used to. The band also treated us to a series of incredible solo duels between Payen’s violin and Chapelière’s clarinet. Everything about the live performance felt tight and snappy, and even though the band was visibly exhausted by the end of their set, they were coaxed back on for an encore by what felt like ten minutes of continuous applause.
I have to say, these guys really understand the essence of what makes for a strong live show—everyone in the band was in constant motion throughout the show, and though they didn’t chat up the crowd that much, what little stage banter they made was like gas on a fire. Colotis has a really natural stage presence, and even though she was only really singing throughout their set, she was constantly stepping up on the monitor amps to get closer to each flank of the stage. At one point, she was on all fours right in front of me, headbanging like crazy on the amp. Chapelière was constantly throwing out high fives whenever he had a break from clarinet duty, but the rest of the band seemed like they were locked in to their instruments for the most part. They even invited a small mob of fans to dance onstage, but there really wasn’t much room up there for them to move around. So, they made do with the space they had and hopped and twirled around as best they could.
It’s rare to see a band so able to keep up the crowd’s enthusiasm, especially after three encores and a crazy amount of dancing. Yet, Caravan Palace seems to match their playful musical style with a genuine sense of fun and excitement in their live set. Their bouncy beats and offbeat musical flourishes got me up and dancing in no time, and they definitely turned around a bummer crowd with what seemed like no effort at all. I’d definitely see them again if they find their way back to Salt Lake City.