Published May 21, 2018Appropriately enough for a review about a show in a church, I have a confession to make.
For the entire opening sermon, delivered by VioleTT Pi's Karl Gagnon in priest's garb, I had no idea what he was saying, as it was delivered in French. And, despite having lived in Montreal for four years, my French is, in a word, terrible. He said the word "musique" a lot, which made sense, but the gist of it, which (presumably) laid out the premise for the evening, was complete lost on me.
But though I couldn't understand the exact words, it quickly became pretty clear what he was talking about the moment bandleader, composer, vocalist and visionary Chloé Pelletier-Gagnon (better known as Klô Pelgag) took the stage in red bishop's regalia (complete with miter), joining her dozen-plus, vestment-clad bandmates for a rendition of "Samedi soir à la violence" from 2016's L'Étoile thoracique that deftly replicated the complex, orchestral sweep of the studio version.
Anyone who's heard either of the two Klô Pelgag albums can surely understand how difficult it must be to bring her elaborate orchestral folk songs to the stage. Brass, strings and woodwinds (among others) enter and exit breathlessly, and so Pelgag has understandably had to pare down the arrangements for live sets. Given the opportunity to play with full instrumentation, Pelgag ran with it.
Thus begat "La messe transfigurée" (the transformed mass), which embraced the cavernous maw of l'Église Sainte-Thérèse-d'Avila — ushers handed out communion wafers before the set, while the costumed performers entered single file in a procession — by staging a midnight mass. If it wasn't obvious enough by her whimsical, extravagant arrangements, Pelgag's music is theatrical, and so hosting a rare, full-band show in such a historic space was the perfect opportunity to embellish the performative aspects of her music.
Having this elaborate setup gave Pelgag the freedom to replicate the full studio arrangements, which were perfectly executed, but she made sure to give the sound some breathing room too, thanks to smaller performances sprinkled throughout the set. Folk duo VioleTT Pi joined Pelgag for a sombre rendition of their 2013 collab "Labyrinthite," and a later duet with thereminist Aleks Schürmer showcased the rich creativity of Pelgag's compositions.
With the dozen-plus musicians shuffling on- and off-stage between every song, the sheer choreography felt more like live theatre than a concert. When opera singer Marc Hervieux entered for his late-set duet with Pelgag, he did so by striding into the aisle at the end of the previous song and belting out a single note, mic-less, to make his presence known.
By the time the full ensemble concluded with "Le ferrofluides-fleurs," audience members were dancing in the aisle, with the religious faux-seriousness fully eradicated. In direct contrast to the opening, the performers exited in a conga line led by a ukuleke, high-fiving audience members as they sauntered out of the church.
Hearing Pelgag's songs in their fullest arrangements was a treat in and of itself, but the efforts she and the other performers went to in embracing the church atmosphere, creating a curated mass with an authentic ebb and flow between folk-pop maximalism and classical duets, showcased Pelgag as the visionary she is.