Have you ever heard of Stromae ? I hadn’t until last year when I heard his most recent album Racine Carrée. I immediately fell in love with it, although I don’t know French at all, and that’s how the entire album is performed. His sound has a very dance-able aesthetic with a polished hip-hop styling.
The Belgian had scheduled a stop at Mill City Nights and I figured it was safe to wait on buying tickets since I never heard him on the radio or mentioned locally. Imagine my surprise when this spring I saw a recommendation on Twitter that the show was close to selling out so you best buy your tickets quick.
The show was unlike anything I’d seen before, especially for a smaller club venue like Mill City Nights. The best comparison I could come up with would be if you crossed the movie Amélie with the movie Moulin Rouge. Between the set design, the graphics, the costume and wardrobe changes, no detail was overlooked in the look and presentation.
The show started with a black and white cartoon shown on the back wall behind the stage. The entire back wall actually, which added to the dramatics. Throughout this intro, the lights would go completely black, and when the short continued, a band member would have appeared on stage. This repeated a few more times in order for each member of the band, all in matching bowler hats, and bow-ties, to take the stage. The cartoon was the journey of Stromae coming to see us. That obviously led him to take the stage.
The venue was packed. There was a large female contingency, of all ages, from underage, to women in their 40s/50s. There was also a large gay following among the men there that night. Everyone however, seemed to scream a lot, at about everything Stromae did. Not that the screaming was unwarranted though.
Stromae, whose real name is Paul Van Haver, is incredibly charming and funny on stage. Many times he would stand at the front of the stage and play into that admiration from the audience. He’d wave to each section even the folks in the balcony. Speaking mostly in English, since he was obviously in the United States, he took a couple of opportunities to speak French, which went over wildly. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me, but there were lots of French speakers in attendance that night and they ate it up every time he spoke in French.
At one point in the show, the backdrop screen, which otherwise played graphics throughout some of the show when it wasn’t just shadows, became an interactive piece of the show. A giant spider made an appearance from the top corner of the scream, as if it was crawling in from the ceiling, working its way towards to the band to kill and eat them. Stromae played against that in dramatic fashion by acting like he was afraid and would cower as the spider neared. It was an amazing spectacle to see.
The typical amount of time between an artist leaving the stage between the main act and the encore, is usually two minutes or less. This not being a typical show, it was slightly longer, and included more of the animated sequence that introduced us in the beginning. His return to stage was also not typical. The four members of the band, carried a stiff, manniquin-like Stromae onto the stage, propping him up in front of the microphone. The show closed with an A capella performance from the entire ensemble. It was yet again, another element that didn’t overlap anything else within the show; something different.
When it was all done, after what seemed like a five minute round of applause and multiple bows from the five performers, I didn’t quite realize what I had just seen. I felt like I had just stumbled onto something unique and amazing, that very few people here know about. The songs were amazing live and kept the sold out crowd dancing the entire time. If the goal was to transport us to another time and place, they succeeded. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since.
Photos by: PJ Mudd