Karkwa's set began with a moody, percussive piece. Louis-Jean Cormier (guitar, vocals) played the pedal steel guitar, frequently making eye contact with François Lafontaine on keys. The rhythm section of Martin Lamontagne on bass and Stéphane Bergeron on drums was augmented by a set-up of floor toms, cymbals and other percussion toys played with gusto by Julien Sagot. Although Karkwa was pretty much unknown in English Canada until they won the Polaris Music Prize last year, the same five guys have been building their fan base in Québec for more than a decade.
The crowd’s energy ramped up as Karkwa moved through their set with energy, enthusiasm and percussion. It was apparent that there were small pockets of Karkwa fans, singing along and hollering between songs. Plants and Animals fans seemed to take it all in, processing what they were witnessing. Louis-Jean made a few references to their continued exposure to English-speaking crowds, struggling at times to explain himself, but winning us over with his earnestness. Towards the end of the set, Louis-Jean admitted to being nervous about playing a well-known cover for the first time to Anglophones, "Dance Me to the End of Love" by Montreal poet/musician Leonard Cohen.
By the last song of the set, "Oublie Pas", everyone was bobbing their heads and humming along. There was almost an aura that this was no opening act; we were treated to two headliners in one night. In any case, there's no doubt that Karkwa gained some new fans at this show.