Sunday, 31 August 2014

Rock En Seine - Paris - August 24th 2014

Not getting fat. Drinking in moderation. Behaving in a civilised manner in public. All things we're reliably told the French are very good at. So, not being a fan of plates piled high with greasy noodles, cartoon character onesies or waking up in a field surrounded by remnants of the copious warm lagers consumed the night before, we got out of Leeds for the festival weekend and headed to the last day of Paris's Rock en Seine

Set in lush parkland on the grimier western edges of the city, the site rises out from behind a dual carriageway like a warped secret garden. The only signs of festivity was a flying saucer high above us; this year's theme being "Le Cosmos"; and smatterings of French teenagers sipping cheap rosé. Once inside, grandiose statues and ornate fountains decorated our paved walkways lined with Ethiopian eateries and champagne bars. So far, so not Bramham. 

The main event, of course, was the music; the gourmanderie is no good without a line up that makes it all worthwhile. First on the main stage was Brighton's Blood Red Shoes. This low down in the bill, it can be easy to forget just how good they are. A few bars into instrumental opener Welcome Home, it was easy to remember. LauraMary Carter is a woefully underrated guitarist, perfectly timed and seemingly effortless in her execution. They looked, as they always do, like they were having a ball. It's astonishing that after a decade of plugging away at their unique brand of esoteric aggression, they've not made it bigger, but refreshing that despite their obvious photogenic nature they've never been about anything except the music. 

After that livener, it was over to the second stage for Warpaint. Coming to the end of a worldwide jaunt in support of their second longplayer, the California based quartet were an absolute joy. Their woozy prog(ish)rock easily entranced the crowd; infectious, infinitely expanding waves washing over increasingly blissful faces. The beautifully harmonised vocals and solid musicianship reached a peak on last song Elephants, seguing into a cacophony of noise so vast we seemed to lose them in it. Their unabashed devotion to their craft has paid off in spades I've never seen them play a bad set, but this was perfection. 

Next up was Brody Dalle, who ripped through a blistering set of newer solo tracks peppered with the odd Distillers classic. Given her well documented personal problems, it was a pleasant surprise to hear her trademark rasp is still there; if anything, the years have made it richer. More than that really, that despite her one time blacklisting by punk's boys' club, she's still putting herself out there, and seemingly, having the time of her life perfectly demonstrated on highlight Meet the Foetus/Oh The Delight, an ode to her expanding family. A brief foray into Janelle Monae, just in time for a Minneapolis leaning, bombastic cover of James Brown's I Feel Good, and it was back to the main stage for Lana del Rey. Oh Lana. Hooked since Video Games, I'd yearned for an star to combine artistic integrity with a contrivedly iconic image in the vein of a Dylan or Bowie. On paper and on record, Ms Grant seemed a serious contender. Based on this set, I got it wrong. Where her records are palpable with feeling, this performance was blank and unengaging. The carefully constructed fallen woman was replaced with a bored girl who teetered about asking for cigarettes as if trying to look cool at a youth club. Money/Power/Glory, a soaring anthem of muddied empowerment became empty and impotent; Pop masterpiece Ride was lifted from tediousness only by the sheer devotion of the crowd singing along. She seemed to be straddling a chasm between a desire for an abstract notion of rock authenticity on one side and polished pop performance on the other and in doing so neglected to do either well enough or realise she's actually more than capable of both simultaneously. 

Over to, surprisingly, La Roux, to perk things up. Not on our list of must sees, this turned out to be the perfect antidote. Exuberant, involving and damn good fun, this is one singer who has the combination of quality pop, interestingly divergent iconography and critical acclaim sewn up. By the time she reached closing track Bulletproof, drenched in sweat from her efforts, I believed again in the healing power of pop music, and so did my fellow audience. The French might know how to behave themselves, but judging by this crowd, this also know how to have a good time. 

So then, Queens of the Stone Age for our headlining act, fast becoming the goto closers for European festivals. They plodded through a well practiced set with the odd gem; Make It Wit Chu grooved like nobody's business; reliably entertaining if not groundbreaking performers. Which brings us to the crux of the issue for events above a certain size. Despite the earlier promise, a festival is still a festival; queues still overflowed for the good grub, it still got muddy and the toilets still decried humanity. The problem with needing the band who can deliver the requisite number of hits to top the bill remains the same; quite often, on the way they've lost what it was that made them special. Despite the pomp and light show, it isn't too inspiring to watch. However, sitting on a deckchair, the lights of Paris twinkling in the distance, surrounded by Gallic chatter with a decent drink in hand, it certainly is a lot more palatable.