Club Contact

The new MP3 blog from London's club Contact. The idea is to allow people to hear new music they wouldn't have otherwise found but, if anyone has any copyright issues with a particular song, i'll take the link down. Songs are only available for a limited amount of time.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm sorry if this isn't as coherent as usual but I'm a little "tired and emotional" at the moment having just come back from seeing Mylene Farmer in Paris. To be honest, you're lucky not to just have a string of OMG!!!!111!!1!!!11!s punctuated by bursts of sobbing.

I can not stress this enough, IF YOU HAVE TICKETS FOR THE CONCERT THEN DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER, I don't want to give anything away.

First a little background, Mylene Farmer is France's biggest pop star. She hasn't toured for six years and is currently half way through seventeen straight nights at the 17,000 capacity Palais Omnisports, Bercy, tickets for which sold out days after their release over a full year in advance. Those of you unfamiliar with her music may like to imagine a cross between the best bits of Kate Bush, Madonna and the Pet Shop Boys but even reference to those luminaries can't come close to fully conveying her genius. She is simply incomparable. What may nominally start as a "review" of Wednesday's concert will doubtless end in hagiography. You have been warned.

Arriving at the venue a mere six hours early, I could see that there was already a queue of thousands snaking through the surrounding parkland, at the head of which were hardy souls who had spent the winter night camped out in makeshift tents. Mylene doesn't really have fans, she belongs to the dwindling band of international stars who have worshippers. It's often said that the love of celebrities has replaced organised religion in Europe, anyone looking for evidence of that theory would have had a field day at Bercy. Like any religion worth its salt, crazy people have killed for Mylene, enduring twenty-four hours in the drizzle isn't going to inspire much dread. I'm sure we all have our prejudices about the disturbed minds that traipse around the globe in the wake of Michael Jackson, one assumes to be on-hand should any allegedly molested children need denouncing, but here, when it's my icon, the devotion seems perfectly logical. I don't go to many stadium events but I can't imagine this is anything like a typical crowd - it's not a handful of teenagers hanging around the stage door before a Son Of Dork show, certainly, there are children who must have been born a good eight years after Maman A Tort came out, but there are also those in their thirties, forties and fifties who have probably been following her for the last two decades. It was also notable that, although Farmer's deviations from the French language have been rare and, by and large, regrettable, there was a significant contingent of Swedish, Russian, German, Canadian, Japanese and English fans in attendance.

So we wait, we shuffle forwards, we buy our thirty-Euro programmes and, finally, we make it into a fairly nondescript arena bisected by a long black catwalk. Over the next two hours every seat in the house is taken and a claim to every square inch of standing space staked. Then darkness. Agonisingly slowly, a projection screen is unfurled and Paris holds its collective breath. A message flashes up. Mylene has hand-selected a short film for us to watch in the place of a support act – sensible, I suppose, as having anyone try to warm up for Mme. Farmer would be as unnecessary as Ronnie Corbett opening for Jesus at the Second Coming. The only snag is that the piece chosen, Le Conte Du Monde Flottant By Alan Escalle could well be the single worst thing ever committed to celluloid. They may have waited thirteen months for the concert to finally come around and an entire day in the queue without complaining but twenty minutes of risible, cod-Oriental nonsense whose tsunami-echoing post Hiroshima theme manages to be simultaneously incomprehensible, boring and offensive is clearly pushing it a bit and the audience starts to get a little testy. Still, given that Ryan's Daughter is her favourite film, we can be grateful that it was only twenty minutes.

Then darkness. Again. This time we know it's real and the elation starts to set in. Lights flash, a sub-sonic rumble begins, the sturm und drang effect is cranked up to a hysterical pitch. We know she's coming but nobody knows where she's coming from. We look at the stage, the stands, the ceiling but still have absolutely no idea. Then we spot something moving over our heads - a Perspex capsule being lowered slowly to the central causeway. The section of the crowd I'm in goes insane, Mylene Farmer is forty...thirty...fifteen feet from our heads. She touches down, eyes closed, four burly attendants dressed in what appears to be a cross between a Chinese frock-coat and the habit of a Russian Orthodox Patriarch pick up her coffin, carry her to the stage and we're in business.

I suspect I'm not the only one dealing with the shock, not just of being in the same physical space as Farmer but, in an odd way, of being confronted with proof that the mysterious, reclusive woman idolised by millions actually exists as a collection of elementary particles, the same as us simple mortals. There remains something supernatural about her though, she looks exactly the same as she did on the cover of L'Autre all those years ago. “Age has not withered her”, and all that. The lithe, gamine figure still casts the same unmistakable silhouette, her high voice is as sweet as ever and she still dances like a sack of potatoes.

Forty-five this year, her spirit hasn't diminished either. As befits the woman who returned from an effective seven-year hiatus with a song called Fuck Them All, whether she's sitting with legs splayed at the front of the stage ensuring that the whole house has a good view of her undercarriage or snarling through a reprise of her highly charged Juliette Greco cover, Deshabillez Moi, clad in her almost-trademark black bra and off-the-shoulder shirt, she's still the catin we adore.

I'd probably still be staring in rapt silence hours later had I not been violently knocked out of my daze by the pounding bass and pulsating synth of Peut-Etre Toi , perhaps not a song that I would have initially seen as a concert-opener beforehand, but sounding so immense that it seems to take on a physical aspect that could strip flesh from bone. Thousands of feet stamp in unison and the floor tangibly bounces under their weight. Next XXL - muscular, modern and sharper than ever before. Only the fact that my arms are pinioned to my sides stops me from involuntarily doing the silly dance routine that accompanies it. It's a trend that continues throughout an evening in which the bulk of Avant Que L'Ombre gets an airing, secret track included. Many have raised doubts about the album and it hasn't fared as well in the charts as might have been expected, but in this context, the new songs are a revelation with all but one sounding timeless. The policy of alternating recent and classic pays off so brilliantly it would be impossible for a neophyte to tell which was which. Of course, with such a rich back catalogue it would be ridiculous to try to cover all the bases. There's three songs apiece from Ainsi Soit Je, L'Autre and Anamorphosee, as well as two extras from the greatest hits package, but nothing from Cendres De Lune or Innamoramento,

In a move that really should become standard for all arena shows, the action switches from the stage to the central platform so Farmer is placed, at some point, within spitting distance of virtually the whole standing crowd. Wonderfully, she sings a positively hymnal Rever just metres from where I'm standing - every expression plainly visible. For what must be the first time, she just about stops herself from bursting into tears towards the end but the majority of the audience aren't nearly so restrained. Left and right, grown men and women faint like elderly Mexican ladies before a miraculously weeping statue of the Virgin Mary. It's just all too much to take. The immortal Desenchantee starts and there's pandemonium, Muscovites and Berliners, even those who didn't appear to know a word of French beforehand, scream the lyrics indelibly etched on their brain like they're Parisians.

When it comes time to introduce the band, it's clear that the crowd's affection extends to Mylene's apostles as well. Johanna Manchec, Esther Dobong' Na Essienne, Eric Chevalier and Abraham Laboriel Jr., familiar faces from a thousand DVD viewings of Bercy events gone by, are greeted like conquering heroes and the gasps of delight that arise when Abraham picks up a mic' to belt his way superbly through Seal's section of Les Mots are audible.

The set's last song is a towering Fuck Them All - anthemic, defiant and celebratory - as vivid a statement as possible that she could be doing this for another ten or fifteen years. She bounds off the stage like she's twenty-five again. There is a drastic change in tone when she returns for an encore of Avant Que L'Ombre though. As she pads up the staircase, discarding her blood-red dress as she goes, it feels unmistakably like goodbye rather than au revoir.

Dizzy, deafened and drained, emotionally and physically, we pour out into the night knowing that everything that has come before, every moment of pop culture we've seen and heard in our lives, has just be placed into context. The Ultras go back to their tents ready for the next evening 's show, the rest of us can only look forward to another six years of hoping and waiting.


  • At 3:22 am, Blogger Ill Folks said…

    Merci! I was in Paris once, but a few weeks away from a Mylene show. From the Bercy DVD I had an idea of its chaos, shock-and-awe. I liked your even hand...that her dancing isn't exactly brilliance...etc. Anyone who references Ronnie Corbett has to know what he's doing. She's STILL doing the fake crying to Rever? And everyone weeps? Yes, I can see why. Her forays into English are unfortunate? I guess even when she was in Canada, she didn't speak English? Can she? I guess if she could, she would've tried some English translations and tossed an album over here (USA) since everyone from Francoise Hardy to Lara Fabian has tried.
    I truly LOVE this woman...and it's never been too easy getting info on her, getting all the videos, etc. And it doesn't help that I don't speak French! But I find my imagination of her words often better than what I see of the translations. She's that good.
    Thanks for blogging a review, sans attitude, of what it's like to be in the eye of the hurricane!

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