Secret Life of an Expat: Gushing for Grendy
Fête de la Musique is a now international music festival that started in France 28 years ago. The idea is to celebrate and make music, and amateur and professional musicians are invited to play concerts anywhere and everywhere that they can. Orchestras play in parks, concert halls open their doors, and restaurants provide amps and lighting to local bands. I missed La Fête last year, so this time I was excited to hear what I could hear. For a Monday night, Paris was hopping. I started in the 5th arrondisement near Place Monge (across the street from Hemingway’s old flat, in fact), where there are so many bars and restaurants clustered on narrow intertwining streets that you could hear two or three different bands playing at the same time, and not all of them were in key.
When M was released from his first day in the new coal mines, we railed it over to another city block in the 18th arrondisement to see our favorite up-and-coming local band Famille Grendy.
The party was already started on the métro. Trains were packed with couples and groups of friends young and old, chatting away, bubbling with a slightly drunken, music loving enthusiasm. At one station, a couple of Adidas-clad urban dancer types piled into the train then danced in confined synchronicity to hip hop beats thumping from a plastic shoulder bag that looked like (and apparently was) a mini-boom box. We got off at Pigalle, and walked behind three wobbly teenagers in the midst of a heated debate about how they would get their next bottle of wine, even though the half bottle of rosé they still had would probably have done them in.
After several hundred meters of sex shops and strip joints, we turned down a thankfully neon-free block to find the restaurant where Famille Grendy would be playing. Outside a bistro, a little stage was set up on the deep sidewalk, and a thick crowd encircled it and spilled into the street. Mrs. Good, the last band to play before Famille Grendy finished up. They really are good, a sort of rock conglomeration from the 70s, 80s and 90s with singers whose voices could hold up in a choir with Mike Patton.
Finally François Cannes, Sandra Hillewaere, Michael Marques, and Gregory Legrand plugged in their instruments.
The members of the Famille Grendy have known each other for decades, and have played in other groups together, but they started playing “as a family” in 2008. They’re not really kin, but they do call themselves Papa, Maman, Tonton (familiar form of Uncle), and Cousin Grendy, and any guests artists that join them on stage always seem to be related. They swap instruments for different songs, have wonderful English lyrics, and everybody sings.
Their music is, well it’s hard, it’s soft, it’s lyrical and harmonious, danceable, singable, head-bangable… fun. Cousin Grendy says: it’s not obvious, even for us, to label the music. We mix up a bit of everything we like, our influences include: The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, Syd Barrett, Nirvana, Moldy Peaches, White Stripes… If we had to label ourselves, we’d say Timeless Hippy Punk.”
Grendy started playing at 11:30 pm. The power cut out several times but they played through the gaps, acoustic-style, and we, their loyal fans, helped out with the chorus. I’ve seen them play at least six times now, and their performances are always dedicated and energetic. It’s obvious they care about their craft and about involving their audience in the spectacle. Maybe the attention they pay to the crowd stems from Papa, Maman, and Tonton Grendy all being school teachers in daylight hours, but it’s probably just that they’re great performers.
But you can imagine that after 8 hours of live music right outside their windows, the residents of Paris might tire of La Fête de la Musique. After midnight stuff started falling onto the stage. A mistake for the grumpy person on the top floor, dropping eggs and water on the band only served to enliven the crowd and we demanded not one but three encores, roaring our cheers extra loud to be sure we could be heard clearly in all corners of the buildings above.
After that Famille Grendy packed up their gear and we headed home. It was Monday night afterall. On our way back to the subway, we passed several more bands playing in and outside bars, and a lively drum circle in a park. It was like everywhere you went there was happy energy flowing, and you just wanted to stop and dance. The enthusiasm for music was soul warming. You saw it in everyone, even the random people who stopped to watch Famille Grendy play, they weren’t your typical fans but they were dancing and loving it along with the regulars.
The Paris métro usually stops running around 1:00 am, but on the shortest night of the year they ran all night. At 1:30 am our car was packed with satisfied revelers. This time a large group of 20-something men boarded, completely blotto. They whooped and hollared, jumped up and down and splashed gin on the rest of us (I had to wash it out of my hair when I got home). One of them lit a huge joint then forgot he was holding it, and I climbed over a subway seat so we could escape to the next car.
And then we were home. Before I came to France I didn’t know what to expect from French Music. I’ve loved falling in love with Famille Grendy, and I think non-expat Americans would like them too. What do you think? Should I try harassing Nic Harcourt to get them on the KCRW playlist?