Le Groupe Swing is a franco-Ontarian band that we first discovered at a Canada Day concert in the Ottawa region about seven years ago. As soon as they came on and started playing, the whole crowd was on their feet, and pretty much stayed there. (Whereas they sat for the headliner.) And I became an instant fan of their music, a fusion of traditional folk with elements of hip-hop and techno: Technotrad, they call it.
I’d been wanting to see them in concert again ever since, but what the singing mostly in French, Southern Ontario is not a regular destination for them. So I was very excited to see, up on the ad screen at the Princess Cinema, that Swing would be performing at Victoria Pavillon on November 14, courtesy of L’association francophone de Kitchener-Waterloo.
I was wondering how the KW crowd would respond to them compared with the Gatineau one. I’ve found KW audiences to be rather staid and quite reluctant to get up and dance—to a frustrating degree, at times. So I wasn’t too optimistic on that front.
I did predict that part of the crowd might be drawn from Swing’s occasional appearances at local French high schools, and that age group was represented, along with older association members (one assumes). I wasn’t expecting quite so many little kids as there were, however. (Let’s hope those kids aren’t too, too familiar with French Canadian slang, as some of their lyrics are a bit—edgy.)
And did the crowd all jump to their feet at the first note Swing played? No! Absolutely not.
But to be fair, they started with cover—all in English—of “Born to Be Wild”. It was a serviceable version, and I like the song, but I didn’t want watered-down, anglicized Swing.
I needn’t have worried. The rest of the set was almost entirely their music, and when singer Michel Bénac pointed out the big dance space in front of the stage, a stalwart four headed right up there to dance, and stayed pretty much the whole evening.
Furthermore, to my surprise, they were joined by more and more people as the evening went on. I was up there by about song 4, Jean resisted until about song 10, and the other couple we went with finally made their way up there as well, for the final set of songs. The band’s music is just irresistible, the singer determined that we are all going to have a good time!
“C’est un party avec Swing!” And it was.
They definitely included most of my favorite songs of theirs—La tête me tourne encore (“You make my head spin—in a good way”), Au nom du père et du fils et du set carré (“In the name of the father, the son, and the square dance”), Belle débousollée (“Beautiful distraught woman”), La vie comme ca (“Life as it is”), and “One Day” (the song wherein they rib anglophones).
The crowd’s favorites (which I also like) were La Goutte (“The Drip”)—“You know this one!” commented Bénac appreciatively (in French)—and the encore, “CB Buddy”.
But we were also treated to some of their very latest songs, such as the single released just last week, “C’Okay” (it got to number 6 on iTunes, by the way), and songs from their recent EP, such as “One Thought”, and even a song that won’t be released for a few months yet. So at least at two live premieres of their music.
And, when we all needed a rest from dancing and hopping—including Michel Bénac (who appears to me to be in amazing shape)—we partook of a camp sing-a-long of eighties classics such as “Billy Jean”, “Every Breath You Take“, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun“ (for the girls), and for the guys—“Baby” by Bieber! Psych!
The between-song patter fun and friendly and all in franglais, except for one shout-out to the anglos in the audience, who were thanked for coming and “being the minority for once. Feels weird, eh?”
Apart from Bénac, the band has a DJ who also does some hip-hop dancing, a violinist, a guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer. Unfortunately, the acoustics (or the sound system?) in that room were not very good. Nevertheless, we could tell they had a high degree of musicianship.
Swing is really one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.
“So good they can even get Kitchener-ites and Waterloo-vians to their feet.”