Archive for December, 2013

Zazie and her Band absolutely at the top of their game, Forest National Arena, Brussels, Belgium, Friday 6th December 2013

Zazie and her Band absolutely at the top of their game, Forest National Arena, Brussels, Belgium, Friday 6th December 2013

It has finally happened – the extra special performance that I have been longing for from one of my favourite French artists – Zazie has arrived. Zazie, with an eye watering real name of Isabelle Marie Anne de Truchis de Varennes served up not only one of the most intense musical experiences I have ever personally experienced but did it without overly obtrusive visual effects so that your eyes and ears were focussed firmly on the singer and her band.
Zazie first came to my attention in 1996/97 while I was living in France studying for my degree. The buses in which I used to travel around the university town of Besancon, constantly had on the radio, playing a mix of French and English pop music that was current at that time. Tunes that were frequently played included several singles from Zazie’s first commercially successful 2nd album Zen, such as “Larsen”, “Un point, c’est toi” and “Homme, Sweet, Homme”. These tunes, that juxtapose sweet tense harmonies with Zazie’s emotional almost folk-like voice, imbedded themselves on my psyche and took root.
Then in 2004, she released the album “Rodeo” which I consider to this day to be her masterwork and one of the best French language pop albums of all time. The next year in 2005 I decided to go and see her live but unfortunately the experiences were mixed partly due to the venues (in Bordeaux we could only see part of the stage) and technical difficulties (in Lille, although the set was visually iconic with Zazie arriving suspended from the ceiling on 4 straps, the sound system and occasionally the singer’s voice sounded crackly.
The year 2008 saw Zazie break new ground and come to London, playing the venerable Shepherd’s Bush Empire on my wife’s birthday weekend. New material was aired from the Album “Totem” to an overwhelmingly French crowd made up largely of expats, young French workers and students. In my favourite London venue, it should have been the perfect show. It was a good show. We had great seats in the middle of the Level 1 balcony. Zazie made some valiant attempts to speak English and there was a vibrant atmosphere particularly towards when the crowd got up and sang classics like “Rue de la Paix”. Like I said it was a good show but not quite perfect. This time it was the crowd themselves or at least the ones around me that took the shine off. I heard too many murmurings, petty criticisms and unworthy attempts at deconstruction. My frustration was palpable. I did not know if I would ever get another chance to see this great singer at her best.
Her 2010 Za7ie: l’Intégrale came and went and while interesting, at 49 tracks over 7 EPs, demanded some work and patience from the listener. Admittedly, I didn’t go to the 2011 tour in France.
Now fast forward to 2013 and the release of latest album “Cyclo”, an album with an altogether darker and grandiose feel. This album is almost as good as “Rodeo”; I knew had to go to a live show again and being the most convenient date, booked for Brussels.
All I can say is perfect, perfect, perfect.
For this show, the venue was acoustically completely right from opening number “Ou allons nous?” (where are we going) to the end.

Sometimes Zazie played a brilliant melancholy with her voice on such songs as “Les Contraires” (The Opposites) , a song which as many, throws the spotlight on the emotional differences in relationships between men and women.
At other times, delving back into her extensive back catalogue, you could feel the substantial drama put into songs like “Ca fait mal et ca fait rien” (It hurts and doesn’t matter) that explore warring relationship within a couple.
Zazie also appears as a keen observer of modern tendencies and trends. The song “Tout” with its up-tempo techno beats and club-like synth rhythms was delivered as a critique to the fast paced modern life and impatient consumer society that now extends into our private lives.
Some classics such as the 1995 release “Larsen” were heartfelt and played in full but others like “Un point , c’est toi , and “Je suis un homme” were incorporated into an amusing Brazil medley style where the Zazie’s band left their instrument to come the front of the stage and play samba drums. At one point, Zazie and the band donned pretend bishops mitre’s and sat on the edge of the stage to acknowledge St. Nicolas Day. After Zazie then went off into the audience to try and start a story going with occasionally bemused individuals in the crowd, with mixed but hilarious results.
Within the long set consisting of about 24 songs there was a liberally sprinkling from latest album “Cyclo” . “Je sais Pas” , another song that with its slow start long build-up into a crescendo projected a feeling of foreboding of a relationship coming to an end. But the title track was a masterpiece both in vocal and instrumental delivery that held me spellbound. The synth riffs were haunting and reminiscent in many ways of the dark atmosphere found in Depeche Mode songs.
The concert got into full electro dance phase with Electro-libre and an slightly more up-tempo and squeakier version of Adam et Yves than usual.
The end of the main set saw 3 live classics; first ,a note perfect version of the truly beautiful “La Dolce Vite” whose synth melody reverberated perfectly through the vast space of the circular arena like a wave; then the proper version of “Je suis un Homme”, a critique of the nature of man in society and history. Zazie exhorted the crowd to sing the chorus “Je tourne en ronde “ ( I go around in circles) to which duly obliged, same thing for next song “Rodeo” – another live classic . The crowd were singing “C’est la vie pas le paradis” long before Zazie started singing the song. All three of these songs were executed with perfect precision.
The first encore also contained crowd pleasers including the very danceable and very apt 20 ans (20 years old), considering most of the crowd were probably in their 30s and 40s, the popular singalong “Rue de la Paix” and the smooth melodic vocal harmonies of “Ca”.
The second encore and last song “J’envoie valser”was personally very special to me and my wife who was also at the concert with there with me as it was the music of our first dance at our wedding; very emotional and a perfect end to a show that was without any shadow of doubt the concert of the year 2013.

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