Happy accidents and play have made a theatrical music group that tried to disband after a couple of years stay together for nearly a decade.
L'Orchestre D'Hommes-Orchestre brings its gritty, vaudevillian carnival show to Vancouver for the first time, March 21 to 24 at the Cultch, performing the repertoire that first brought them together, the career-spanning music of gravelly voiced American singer-songwriter Tom Waits.
The Quebec City group's name means one-man band and that's how the group started with Bruno Bouchard performing Waits' songs on the street with a guitar slung across his chest and a drum on his back.
Friends and friends of friends with backgrounds in visual and performing arts and literature soon joined him, wanting to jam.
They took the show to bars and their popularity swiftly grew.
"It became a playground, a place where everything was possible," Bouchard said.
Demand means L'Orchestre D'Hommes-Orchestre will perform the music of Tom Waits in 12 countries this year with each member trying to maintain their individual art practices on the side.
Their off-kilter tribute is a raucous, intimate affair that sees all six members of the band and their 150 found and invented instruments-which include a banjo strummed with spaghetti, washtubs, the Bible and a saw-perform within a 16-by 12-foot space.
"When you take every action separately, sometimes it's a little bit annoying," Bouchard conceded.
But with the artists switching instruments and recreating the texture of Waits' voice in inventive ways among a crowded cacophony of objects, magic happens.
A video from a show features four bandmates huddled around one mic, their faces outlined by a picture frame they hold.
"That idea is somehow fragile but sometimes you have the permission to go there, just like Tom Waits is one of the few that can say the ocean is blue, as blue as your eyes. Not many people have the right to say this," Bouchard said with a laugh.
The former four-piece became a sixpiece by accident when a scheduling mistake at a festival had them on stage the same time as Les New Cackle Sisters, who were performing music by the DeZurik Sisters who raised the bar for American yodellers and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in the 1940s as the Cackle Sisters. The two groups performed together, and then joined forces.
The players in L'Orchestre D'Hommes-Orchestre constantly trade off singing, beating, strumming and staging duties.
"We try to get people confused about that," Bouchard said, explaining the "one man band" operates as a collective.
"It's really hard," he added. "We're always creating this way of being together, but you can see it on stage. You can feel it. It's a kind of family story. You can see tension, you can see love, you can see a lot of true stuff."
L'Orchestre D'Hommes-Orchestre is copresented by Capilano University at the Cultch, 1895 Venables St. For more information, see thecultch.com.
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