Le Mouton Noir, it calls itself, which is a funny name for a bar, especially a bar that appears to be mascotted not by a black sheep at all but by an aloof pug named Fred. Okay, I made that last bit up. There is a pug, but the bugger couldn’t be bothered to properly introduce himself. But I suppose his name could be Fred. Nobody ever told me it wasn’t.
The Black Sheep Inn, misnamed or not, bills itself as a “musical destination” in rural Quebec. It’s the kind of place that has ski-doo parking out front and boasts nachos with “red sauce” as the highlight of its limited menu (and indeed, when they arrive, the sauce is exactly that – unidentifiable and yet unmistakably red). To show that we’ve paid, the backs of our hands are stamped with a bingo dauber, and with that, we are absorbed into the crowd.
I drink rye & diets; I don’t need to ask for a drink menu to know this isn’t a martini kind of place (if nothing else, the unironic wood panelling screams it sufficiently). Andrew is happy to continue with his love affair with stout, and this is just the place to indulge him. The tables are sticky and wobbly so we hold our drinks and don’t make the mistake of resting our elbows more than once. I feel overdressed in my jeans and t-shirt because I am not visibly sporting thermal underwear.
The first (of three) bands is setting up, and I am quick to notice that they are the kind of band who wear “interesting” sweaters and drink tea instead of beer. The singer tunes her saw. Yes, you read that right. Her saw. With the bow of a violin, naturally. But I am disappointed during the performance because the saw never makes an appearance. However, I am delighted that the fuzzy sweater has disappeared and she has donned a rather affected pair of white leather gloves that she swishes around moodily while on stage. She breathes a “bonsoir” to us from under her tousled hair, and visions of Edith Piaf dance before our eyes. My opinion is further improved when an accordion player is invited to join them on stage. I now believe that if you’ve never seen anyone wail enthusiastically on an accordion, then you’ve never really lived. Have you ever seen someone really feel the accordion? I’m talking spastic, eyes-closed intensity here. Whew.
Next up to bat was a fun and funny folk singer named Bob whose protest songs are directed towards dogs, who discouraged applause after a song, delightfully entitled “How to Build a Fence”, about the literal building of a fence, the fancy kind, with a gate that swings and everything, by saying Oh don’t clap, that song only had 2 chords so it really wasn’t that hard, and who dazzled with such insightful lyrics as If singing the blues is a gift, next time I’d rather have a toaster. You just can’t lose with shit like that, and I could have listened to this guy all night long.
It seems to me at this point that the acts tonight are a bit incongruous, but hell, this place has an African mask on the wall beside a dart board that’s beside a Che poster that’s under a disco ball that’s hanging next to a dusty ceiling fan. You might think that clashing is an intended theme of the mouton noir, but when you get a load of the waiter in his ear-flap toque, and the dog who sits his ass on the bar in flagrant disregard of any health codes, and the audience members who bang their beer bottles on the table instead of clapping, you begin to have an understanding of a sense of belonging that no bar in the city will ever have.
The, ah, headliner, if you will, goes on last (duh), and we’re apparently supposed to know that he was once in Blue Rodeo, but the only thing I recognize him from was his frenetic accordion playing earlier in the night. The accordion, it seems, was just the tip of the iceberg with this guy. He sets up a multi-media show that is accompanied variously by him on the guitar, the keyboard, and of course, the accordion, which continues to be my favourite. He really breaks that fucking shit out, he plays it like he means it, and I doubt that I will ever recover from the haunting tune that played during the death of a hand puppet. Although come to think of it, he may have almost been upstaged by a video of an older man beat-boxing so maniacally that I nearly mistook it for an epileptic fit. But then he closed the show with a tour de force on the piano so amazing that even he couldn’t stay in his seat, thus cementing his title of Coolest and Most Bizarre Thing I’ve Seen Since At Least Last Tuesday, And Maybe Longer.
And through it all, the premature clapper showed us her approval before it was ever appropriate. There’s always one in every audience, isn’t there? They over-anticipate the end of each song and clap way ahead of time, as if it were a race. Well, she won. Every damn time. Her early applause drowned out the best bits of every song, and some of it was so ahead of time that I would mistakenly attribute it to the fact that maybe one man in ten managed to zip up before exiting the washroom, but no. She just wanted the artist to know that she liked the show before any of us other fools did.
And then it was time to put our snow suits, get on our snow mobiles and make tracks homeward. Except not. Being out-of-towners and wearing galoshes-less shoes, we opted for a car in the direction of our B & B because – oh yes – if you thought my night at the Black Sheep Inn was awesome, well then hold onto your socks for my next instalment , which is even awesomer.