The Cat Empire

25 November 2007

I persuaded some friends in Montpellier that I would take them to see some ‘decent’ live music, and we departed on a road trip to see the Cat Empire, who were playing in Arles, a town near Montpellier.

Given that live music by Montpellier’s standards means when the DJ /barman presses the ‘play’ button on the stereo, all the Cat Empire had to do was arrive on stage and play a tuning note and they would have lived up to my hype.

I borrowed my housemate’s car for the journey – he was busy in his room with an assortment of power tools, ply-wood and a majority of the neighbourhood’s wheelie bins which he has been busy mutilating the past week as part of his ingenious scheme to design a system of opening the bins with a foot pedal, an apparent niche in the bin market he had identified.

The car trip was horrendous. It was the worst conditions in which to first acquaint oneself with a right-hand drive car – torrential rain in the dark, a highway crammed with racing trucks doing 130 kmh, headlights with all the power of two AA batteries, and the only music to listen to was a reggae CD. And it scratched.

After a short 40 km detour to the outskirts of the town ‘Ales’, we navigated back to the highway and, sometime later, to the actual destination, ‘Arles’. The funny thing is, all three of us in the car actually convinced ourselves that it was probably just a convention of ‘The French’ that they would drop the ‘R’ out of some towns when labelling them on road signs. I’m still not convinced they don’t.

Arriving in the charming bohemian village of Arles, I discovered that I couldn’t reverse the car. Unfortunate timing, since I had just entered a large, full, car-yard. This was to be a theme resumed later in the evening.

Ali and I pushed the car, in the torrential rain, back to the main road. We continued on to the venue, Cargo de Nuit, mounting the curb to park on someone’s footpath.

The venue was small, intimate, cosy. White beers were cheap, on tap, and with a slice of lemon dropped in. It was perfect.

The Cat Empire started. It was a young crowd of about 250, and no-one was wearing parachute pants. I pinched myself and remembered that I was no longer in Montpellier.

They played all the classics; and even if they played new stuff, it still sounded like the old stuff, so no harm was done. The French crowd, new to their sound and stage presence, loved it. So did I, it was a great taste of home. Somewhat of a veteran now of their shows, this was one of the better I’d seen of late. They played tight and to the crowd; they screamed their solos, the crowd screamed back.

But things had changed since they started making music and a name eight years ago. An odour that they’d outgrown their own sound hung in the air. Singer Felix and trumpeter Harry lacked the chemistry that defined their early lives shows. Felix had his brave face on, Harry had some extra kilos. Oli, still a genius on the keys, still looked like he was in a state of permanent orgasm. Some things never change.

I met Felix after the show.
“Hey Felix, I used to live in the same house as you in Moore Street,” I said.
“Yeah, I thought you looked familiar,” he replied.
“Actually I lived there after you had moved out…”
 
Driving home was easy. Until Montpellier at least. Since I walk everywhere, I have no idea how to navigate the historic town’s labyrinthine streets. I took a right turn and found myself on a carpark ramp under a department store. Not being able to reverse, I took the ticket, did a circuit of the carpark, paid for the ticket, and exited.

Ten minutes later I did the same thing under the convention centre.

I live in the town’s old precinct, whose roads are blocked with rising bollards for you need a special card to pass over. I had a card, it just didn’t seem to work. Then when it did, it wouldn’t work when exiting the street. Wet, tired, and increasingly far from home, I got out again began to push the car back to the main street. Ali the American had left by this stage, so it was Marianne and me only. And she was steering.

A large dumpster was partly in the way, which in an uncharacteristic moment I kicked in frustration, only to see my shoe fly off and land in the middle of a large puddle. I was now single-handedly pushing a small car back down a one-way street wearing a sodden shoe on the left and a sodden sock on the right. I found myself wondering whether if my housemate had his way, that the dumpster wouldn’t also be open.

The only thing to do was push the car on to the nearest footpath and go home and tell my housemate where to collect it in the morning, not forgetting to ask him to fetch my shoe while he was at it.