Entertainment » Music

@ the 2018 Quebec City Summer Festival

by Lindsay B. Davis
Tuesday Aug 14, 2018
@ the 2018 Quebec City Summer Festival

When Queens native Cyndi Lauper burst onto the pop scene in the early '80s with "She's So Unusual," she became the first woman to have four Top-5 singles on a debut album and won the Grammy for Best New Artist. Since then, she has proven her music industry staying power over the last 30 years by not only crossing generations ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun" has 195,165,960 listens on Spotify) but also genre-busting into the blues (with the album "Memphis Blues") and writing for musical theater (her Tony award-winning musical "Kinky Boots" and forthcoming "Working Girl" are adaptations of films for the Broadway stage).

This summer, the 65-year-old Lauper proved she can still do something for the very first time in her career: rock a music festival. Specifically, the Festival d'été de Québec (FEQ) that ran from July 5-15 in Quebec City.

Cyndi Lauper  (Source:Renaud Philippe / FEQ)

As Lauper told an ebullient, jean jacket-clad, mostly Canadian crowd, "I could never play music festivals, but I'm here now. Better late than never!"

This year, FEQ (or, Quebec City Summer Festival as it's translated) hosted hundreds of musicians from multiple genres across ten stages for 11 days in July. Crowds drew into the tens of thousands for headliners including The Weeknd, Neil Young, Future, Shawn Mendes, Foo Fighters, The Chainsmokers, Beck and Dave Matthews Band, and supporting acts from Femi Kuti to Camila Cabello.

On Friday the 13th, when Lauper performed on the Bell Stage (Canada's largest and one of the biggest in North America located in the historic battlefield park Plains of Abraham), she followed the dreamy, electronic duo Milk & Bone (Montreal based Camille Poliquin and Laurence Lafond-Beaulne) and teen phenom turned global superstar Lorde, the only woman headliner of the festival.

Lauper delighted in the night's all-female lineup by sharing another anecdote with fans.

"In the 80s and the 90s, I wanted to do a show with women. Women! They always said to me, Nahhh. Women can't draw. I ask you to look around. Now that we broke that fallacy, I'm just really excited to be here!"

From flexed footed straddle splits done supine while singing, to chatting with the massive crowd in between hits ("She Bop," "All Through the Night," "Money Changes Everything," "Time After Time," to name a few), Lauper rocked both stadium style and with the intimacy of a downtown cabaret. Her hair now lavender-tinged grey, silver bangles stacked up her arm, she also wore shimmery silver high tops and a sequined patchwork jacket over sexy black bustier; the perfect outfit for popping her music festival cherry.

Before the opening chords to "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," Lauper shared her excitement over how the song has taken on yet another life as part of the #MeToo movement with the feminist slogan, "Girls just want to have fundamental rights."

And while she didn't mention it directly, her festival performance also ran on the heels of a recent True Colors Fund initiative with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, one which more specifically addresses LGBTQ youth problem across the United States. When Lauper closed her set with the classic ballad of the same name, "True Colors," a gentle breeze off the nearby St. Lawrence River adding to its healing effect, one could feel the joy and love, beautiful like a rainbow, and courtesy of an icon.

Lorde  (Source:Renaud Philippe / FEQ)

Twenty-one-year-old Lorde is a pure presence in the pop world. Her alto wavers between breathy and bellowing, its quality so signature and emotional she lives in the wheelhouse of the late Amy Winehouse. While currently touring her second studio album "Melodrama," which earned her a 2017 Album of the Year Grammy nomination (but a performance snub from the Grammy organization, a big mistake I can fully authenticate after having seen her show), the New Zealander learned some French and to the delight of thousands, took a few planes to make a stop in Quebec City at FEQ.

Lorde's presence was electrifying. With upbeat energy, the petite dynamo worked the width of the massive stage with a melange of songs from her two albums (among them "Perfect Places," "Tennis Court," "The Louvre," "Homemade Dynamite,"). When it was time for the ballad "Liability," which has raised questions on whether she's bisexual with the lyrics: 'So I guess I'll go home into the arms of the girl I love / the only love I haven't screwed up / she's so hard to please, but she's a forest fire," Lorde dove into a lengthy monologue about that song's theme of being "a little much" and "liability" for someone. Then she got the crowd to admit they'll never leave her. Ever. (It was all a little extra but still worked.)

Lorde strutted and belted to the hilt, performed light choreography with a small group of dancers and got through each song with the vocal command of a seasoned performer. When she sang her Grammy award-winning 2013 teen anthem "Royals," which in June made Rolling Stone's Top 100 songs of the 21st Century at #9, you could see how much she's grown in the last five years. Gone is the adolescent who penned "Pure Heroine" and here to stay is an enthralling woman delighting in her power. (With an older-than-her-years sensibility, Lorde feels like your bestie who, once an outsider, is in the popular group now but will still tell you to ease off Instagram because it's superficial.)

When she closed the night with "Greenlight," she summoned the goddesses.

"Quebec, for this song to work there needs to be alchemy between us like nothing else tonight. You need to give me the last bit of dancing in your feet and your hands. Are you with me?" They were and if this performance was any indicator, will be for a very long time.

POESY  (Source:Renaud Philippe / FEQ)

Canadian artists made their marks on the smaller stages, including the young Quebec folk duo The Johans (Cynthia Larouche and Emilie Rochette) and Canada's best lesbian garage band Partner (best friends named Josée Caron and Lucy Niles with the Instagram tag "we're gay but not for each other" behind the 2015 song "The 'Ellen' Page"). Partner are recent winners of the SOCAN Songwriting Prize and touring in support of their 2017 album "In Search of Lost Time," which was recently nominated for the 2018 Polaris Music Prize.

Another striking female presence at the festival, this one from Nova Scotia, was 22-year-old singer/songwriter POESY. She recently emerged while a contestant on the Canadian television show "The Launch," which pairs producers and songwriters with unknown singers to help them create hits.

POESY's vocals and performance style have drawn comparisons to Florence + the Machine, and while she is worthy of this praise she cascades across notes more like a young Paula Cole. "Soldier of Love" from "The Launch" was the most recognized and well-received song of her set, while the rest were all powerful, raw and beautiful. Keep your eyes on POESY's rise.

Toronto-native Sate, the daughter of Canadian blues/jazz pioneer Salome Be whose "RedBlack&Blue" is the best rock album you may not have heard of, gave a performance to remember. I walked in as she was straddling her guitarist during an instrumental solo, a visceral 5-minute moment that would've become uncomfortable were it not so real and well-done. Sate's live performance chops must be seen to be felt; the self-proclaimed #WokeWarriorWitch brings a fusion of rock, funk, and soul that leaps off the stage with joyful fire and empowering fury.

Gorgon City  (Source:Renaud Philippe / FEQ)

On the men's side, EDM pop giants The Chainsmokers (native New Yorkers Alex Pall and Andrew Taggert) took the Bell Stage crowd by storm with those sick beats, lasers, and fireworks. Their medleys of hits ("Closer," "Somebody," "Something Just Like This," and "Don't Let Me Down") mixed with throwbacks (including a techno-inspired version of The Cranberries' "Zombie") was nothing short of ecstatic and next level for the bandana-clad boys and girls.

Earlier that night, U.K. DJ duo Gorgon City (Kye "Foamo" Gibbon and Matt "RackNRuin" Robson-Scott) were the perfect opener, their laid back, house music hits ("Real Life," "Ready for Your Love" and "Imagination") ideal for FEQ's chill yet upbeat festival vibe.

Dave Matthews Band closed the festival, offering a mix of old hits and new songs off his 2018 release "Come Tomorrow," an album that has made it onto my 10 Best of 2018 list (as of August 1). As a longtime Dave fan, I found everything about his set endearing, from the grunting and contorted expressions to raspy howls and at times missed notes in falsetto land.

Since the loss of violinist Boyd Tinsley to a resignation and subsequent sexual abuse claims, the challenge was to fill a void about which Dave Matthews told NPR, "Change is never easy, even if it's for the better." Without hiring a new fiddler he has done it, and with more guitar sounds and horns to boot, brought an evolved DMB that festival fans were on board for from the opening ("Don't Drink the Water") through closing ("Ants Marching") notes.

For more on the Festival d'été de Québec (FEQ), visit the event's website.

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