OMIP at the Paris Rock shows. 1995

Saturday night, and a musical conflict of sorts presents itself: two very desirable concerts in two different parts of town. On my left, Avenue Montaigne, in the rarefied historical surroundings of the Theatre des Champs-Elyseees, the woman I'd love to love, the ice-goddess of bowed strings, Die Marschallin of the violin, Anne-sophie Mutter was to remember an angel and play Alban Berg's violin concerto with Pierre Boulez conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
The Theatre des Champs-Elysees, opened in 1913, was one of the first theatres to be built out of reinforced concrete. Keeping to the spirit of modernism, and influenced by the Munich "Sezession" of 1910 with its starkly geometric interior design (a style that was to become known as Art- Deco a decade later), "High Arts'' controversy and the Avant-Garde have passed through; audiences engaged in fist fights and riots during the scandalous premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring during the theatre's first year, along with the laying of the foundations of modern dance with the several seasons Diaghilev's Ballets Russes spent there. Wow. dig the vibes, man! !

And on my right, Porte de la Villette, on the grounds of the former Paris slaughterhouses (abattoirs, the French and Monty Python would say) stands the Zenith, a large mega-metal tube structure that can pack in about 6000 heads of rock cattle on a good night. The first in a series (there are half a dozen Zeniths throughout France), it was built in the early '80s by the then-new socialist government to provide the youth with a permanent rock venue. The crowds passing through the rotating knives (just kidding!) that night were to be treated to a quadruple bill, three-quarters American. of today's finest perv/prog rock with enough indie tendencies and market potential to play the Big Place. The latest incarnation of Jad Wio, a french synth-pop duo (now augmented to seven pieces!) specializing in S&M bondage theatrics, was there to teach some French and new positions to the Cramps (as if Lux and Ivy still had anything left to learn!), Morphine (whose bassist/vocalist provided the audience with the most mellifluous "français" the entire night) and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Such were my two options that night, and a Zenith night it was to be for the friendly press agent from the Theatre des Champs-Elysées informed me earlier that week that the world's media were to descend en force upon the head of Monsieur Boulez and the Divine Fraulein from the Rhine; so, désolé, no more Tickets de Presse (plus-one on the guest list'' in rock tawk!) pour moi ! Merde alors!

A generous abundance awaited me at the Zenith however, with TWO tickets, a comp copy of the Cramps' Flamejob and the new Jad Wio CD single. After all this, I was almost expecting a free bag of dope and the escort of a sexy young slut with fat juicy red lips to really lay me down!
Among France's many cultural advantages is a drinking age of 16. And they don't check ID. So, as long as you look 16, or at least a solid mature l4- you could be l 2 and a half and still get smashed- no hassle. So never mind "all-ages''! If you want to come to the show, can afford the ticket and your mom agrees, you're in. I mention this because I still can't shake the American gut reaction of utter surprise to be at a rock concert with five or six bars lining the concourse around the hall, and hardly any of the teenagers in attendance charging up to beer down: ''Wow. dude! Bars with kegs and they'll serve us !??! "Yo! Gimme 12 !!!"

Jon Spencer had been on for a while when I got there, but l was able to move up to about 30 feet from the stage. Most music should not be heard in large halls, Jon Spencer's even more so. A small crowded little dive on the Lower East Side or Hoboken would obviously be the venue of choice. Spencer's wild antics, gyrating, ranting and raving were lost on the huge stage and his white bucks, black stovepipe pants and pink shirt were nice stylistic touches wasted on the wind. Well maybe not entirely, as the people around me contentedly smiling seemed to like the band very much, despite receiving essentially no mix nor PA reinforcement to speak of. (People talking behind me were louder than what was coming out of the PA columns 20 feet in front.) The wildness and "kick-out-the-jams-motherfuckers'' attitude of the Blues Explosion won over a lot of people and theirs was to prove to be the truest rock performance of the night. Even the headlining Cramps got sort of smothered by the "production value'' of the big rawk event.
Don't get me wrong, the Cramps put on a fine show, but Lux and Ivy, sounding good and looking swell (Lux in black stretch vinyl and high heel pumps, Ivy with a cascading mass of auburn curls and a big golden guitar), had problems cutting through.
Morphine was a revelation to me. I kind of missed out on them when I lived stateside, and it took nine more months of gestation in Paris' big belly for me to finally pay atten- tion and discover three superb musicians putting out one humongous mountain of sound, finely grained and textured, interestingly arranged and never sounding the slightest bit tedious, even after an hour of the most sensuous riffing, sans guitar!
Jad Wio, les Francais du jour, were the disappointment of the evening. Nearly a decade ago, they started off as an Alan Vega-Bowie-esque electro guitar-synth duo with a strong perv/sex and leather approach: perfect for a city of endless live-sex theatres and peep-shows! But now the bondage synthoid duet has turned into some kind of solo pop cabaret act with a six-piece back-up band. A good band, mind you, but an approach lost in a big hall with front man Bortek looking fiercely decadent in a fire-engine red super-high gloss, stretch-vinyl body suit, with bowler-hat and high heel boots to match. But that's as far as the excitement went. When just walking out on stage is the high point of the set, you know something's missing! Jad Wio had the big PA sound Jon Spencer never got and Bortek was essentially motionless the way Spencer never could!  I can't help thinking of the effect the Blues Explosion would have had on "les parisians" if the two bands had traded sound mixes; at least the Frenchies had the courtesy not to boo the locals but cruelly put their disinterest across by refusing en masse to sing along when exhorted to do so on two occasions.
I'll close out this Zenith night with something I had never seen before: While Jon Spencer's gear was being removed and Jad Wio's set-up, a huge screen came down, a BARCO 5000 video projector was revealed and they showed... commercials! That's right, TV advertising type ads for candy bars and cosmetics, not shown in rock derision but very much on the level. More grist to the mill of those who've long argued that rock (or rawk, or rök) has long-ceased to be an art form to fully become a commercial product. Consume away, boys and girls! !

The following Tuesday, I went back over all the way across town to Montreuil, a red-belt (i.e.: communist) suburb that's become, I was told, the largest Malian city outside of Africa!
Austrian avant-jazz alto saxophonist Wolfgang Puschnig got himself a couple of gigs there and thought nothing of flying guitarist Rick Iannacone from Philly to play Paris and a couple of German dates the following weekend.
Rick's played it all, from banging "Me and Mrs. Jones'' with Billy Paul every night around the world for years, to wild improvised gestalt screams in darkened art holes and wet spots in the US and Europe with the likes of Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Berlin-in-Philly dancer Manfred Fischbeck, Korean traditional ensembles, Japanese Butoh dancers and rap combos. Les Instants Chavires (The Capsized Moments) is one such hole, except it's clean and well-kept, what with city-hall subsidies and all (French commies like the art thing, y'know!). Multi-colored plywood cut-out figurines are dripping down the walls, glaring at the intello-crowd: mostly men in their 30s and up, quiet, single and introspective, fully engrossed into the music and laughing at the trilingual (French, English and musical) jokes, NOT wearing Iron Maiden sleeveless denim jackets with Corrosion of Conformity patches. At the bar, the cheap shit is Heineken, with the good stuff bearing names like Leffe, Gueuze Lambic, Blanche de Bruges and Affligen.
Everybody was loose and the band came on. French guitarist Noel Akchote is one fleet-fingered, smooth motherfucker with a vague Bill Frisell flavor, a fuller legato phrasing and less of the stop'n'go frenzy of the New Yorker. With just two effect pedals and a small amp, he was quite literally a guitar player, tasteful and restrained, yet able and willing to turn it up and get raunchy when necessary.
Iannacone, on the other hand, also very much a player himself, tried to get his guitar to generate as many odd sounds as possible, musical or not, and did it with great success. He brought so many effect boxes and foot pedals over from Philly, one almost had to wonder if he had enough changes of socks and underwear to last the whole week and a half! But then again, it's a question of priorities: when you're touring the art circuit, playing clubs cum galleries in exotic suburbs, without roadies or vinyl stretch suits, you make your comfort choices early on and your guitar sticks with them!
Altoist and leader Puschnig, who met Iannacone when they both played with the Korean ensemble mentioned above, blows a fine, round, warm tone. Playing an harmolodic groove on the alto with a twin-guitar backup band makes it impossible not to bring Ornette Coleman to mind. So it did, with some of the funkier arrangement making me think of Ornette and Primetime playing Peter Gunn with the JBs.
When you add virtuoso contrabassist Helene Labarriere and Austro-slovenian drummer Emil Kristof, you realize intercontinental improv groove jazz (find a better label if you can!) is not only alive and well, but so fucking real and wunderbar that it makes the 40-minute/3 line/2 interconnection metro ride back home just an afterthought!

Next time, I hope to be able to tell you that the Paris-SG soccer club, which just qualified to meet Milan AC in the semi-finals of the Europeans Champions League Cup, has qualified for the final, and, led by George Weah, African '94 Player of the Year, and Rai, team captain of the '94 World Cup winner Brazil, has become the 1995 European Cup Champion. See you then! 

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