|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
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
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
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
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