Global maestro Stromae makes a stunning Philly debut at The Troc
Stromae | Photo by John Vettese

As soon as an artist on a Philadelphia stage mentions cheesesteaks, that’s my cue to tune out. While I appreciate the stab at a regional reference, if that’s honestly the best you can do – like, come on dudes and dudettes, didn’t your tour van take you anywhere else today? – I’d rather just hear you play songs. Usually. So points are due to Paul Van Haver, aka Belgian dance pop sensation Stromae, for bantering about our local cuisine in a way that didn’t come across as patronizing, but totally within the context of the performer’s larger global vision.

“I love it here, except for one thing,” Stromae told the sold-out Trocadero crowd at his Philadelphia debut last week. “‘French Fries.’ Those are frites!” Which of course come from his home country, and he takes it so personally that he interrupted the high-energy hard-hitting show for several minutes to discuss the etymology and disputed origin of this fast food side. To hammer the point home: “For example, what if we called them ‘New York cheesesteaks?'” The crowd jestingly booed the man like he was Santa Claus, and there you had it; Stromae led The Troc in a chant of “Belgian Fries! Belgian Fries!” before launching into “Moules Frites” from his 2013 record Racine Carrée.

My overly simplified take on a Stromae concert: it’s like seeing Bastille, but in French. Van Haver has the same propulsive drive as Dan Smith, athletically racing from one side of the stage to the next to artfully crafted pop beats and electronic textures of a four-piece backing band. And while Bastille’s Smith gives a nod to avant-garde cinema in his David Lynch fandom, Stromae’s cultural view is perhaps a bit more nuanced.

“Carmen” is a scuzzy dancefloor rendering of the “Habanera” from Bizet’s opera; “Formidable” had breezy flamenco undertones, high-energy opener “Ta fête” is built on thundering African rhythms, “Bâtard” is a fierce slice of Detroit house. His sonic eclecticism never felt unfocused, though, and the language barrier was virtually nonexistant. Van Haver asked the crowd at several junctures if they spoke French and they replied with elated screams (they’d been singing along to his lyrics all night). And for those who do not speak French, and thus were somewhat left out from picking up on Van Haver’s critically praised, thought-provoking lyrics (ahem, right here), that was fine, because the feeling nonetheless translated in full.

Check out photos from Stromae’s show at The Troc in the gallery below, and let’s hope he books a return trip to Philadelphia as soon as possible.

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