Coeur de Pirate at the Commodore

March 4, 2019
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Award-winning singer-songwriter and pianist Béatrice Martin (aka Cœur de Pirate) navigates back into the light and shines bright with a soulful performance at the Commodore Ballroom.

On a crisp Saturday night in March, I ducked into the Commodore Ballroom to escape the sharp Vancouver wind. Dimly lit and packed with a mixed crowd, the venue was full of excited energy. Not 15 minutes from the anticipated start time, the opener, Hanorah floated onto the stage in a ‘90s-style floral dress. Nearly drowned out at first by the loud chatter of the room, she sheepishly began her set. “Normally I play with a band, but I’ve had to leave them back at home in Montreal,” she said.

Illuminated by two simple white spotlights, Hanorah stood on stage alone but for her jangly, reverb-soaked electric guitar. Her butter-smooth voice with blues and jazz undertones pierced through the distracted crowd. Like a soulful statue with her heart on her sleeve, she commanded the stage with back-to-back songs of self-loathing and heartbreak. Slowly the crowd’s attention turned toward her and even burst into applause as she finished her set and walked off stage.

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Barely 20 minutes later, Coeuer de Pirate (“Pirate’s Heart”) took to the stage and were met with an uproarious welcome. The band, dressed all in black, were a shadow-like backdrop for Quebec singer/songwriter Béatrice Martin, who transfixed the audience with her velvety voice, and dramatic, Stevie Nicks-style hand gestures. Singing mostly in French—except, notably, in her ghostly cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”—Martin and her band put on a high-energy show. Any expectations of hearing the innocent, fool-hearted girl of years gone by were trampled immediately.

So, too, was any hope of seeing the anxious, insecure woman known partially for her intensely self-deprecating blog, “I’m Afraid of Everyone” for Noisey. That Béatrice Martin wasn’t here tonight. In her place was a graceful, self-assured performer who knew both who she had been, and who she was now, over a decade into her career. After many years of personal struggle (a divorce, a drinking problem, and a near mental health collapse), she seemed to have successfully navigated her way back into the light, which was now shining brightly on her face for all of us to see.

Playing a mixture of old and new songs, Martin and the band went from heavy bass and drum-driven, seat-shaking anthems to more ethereal ballads. Quieter and more introspective songs, Martin played solo, her petite frame juxtaposed against the grand piano in the center of the stage. The crowd chanted “je t’aime” until she cracked a slight smile and said “not done yet, this is quite surreal,” and kept playing.

When the band returned to the stage for the last songs of the night, the spotlights soaked the room in deep, moody blues and greens. Martin danced as she sang, right along with the audience–even those who’d been sitting the whole night got up from their tables to join in. The room was electric and shook as the crowd cheered and stomped their feet. When the last song ended, the band huddled at the front of the stage and bowed in unison. Martin stood alone for a moment and looked out at us, appreciatively clutching her heart—that self-proclaimed pirate heart of hers, the one that’s supposed to be cold and dark. Cœur de Pirate had just ignited the entire room—and just like that, she was gone.