(Photo: Sebastien Cuvelier)
On a wet spring evening amid a few slurring highschoolers a crowd of chatty teens and college kids piled up in the queue for French electro duo Justice, each energetically jockeying for a chance to catch a little sweat off the brow of members Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay. (Later, I witnessed one of those bright-eyed kids fling metal railings around as two bouncers dragged him to the curb, each at an elbow.) Every third person in line for the metal detectors had a backpack, it seemed, so the air around the venue floor inside was highlighted with pockets of hazy pale and every step deeper into the crowd was like inching a nose closer to a cannabis sativa scratch and sniff.
The duo’s set-up was behemoth; huge racks of speakers with LED displays on their fronts, an entire cabinet of knobs and blinking lights on soundboard faceplates, a luminescent plastic cross two feet wide and three feet long in the center – a smaller matching wooden one held aloft by an arm in the crowd. De Rosnay and Augé appeared lost, as if the cosmic disco-opera they produce both sonically and physically dwarfed them. And that was the view from the back of the room – any closer and the angle would have been even less agreeable.
Not that there was much to see anyhow. Both mostly tooled around shoulder to shoulder at the displays in front of them, de Rosnay breaking away on occasion to act as hypeman, emerging around the side of the cabinet to whip the crowd to frenzy. (Unlike the treatment afforded Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass in the same venue last year, no one pawed at de Rosnay’s crotch.) A singularly writhing mass causing the Roseland’s floors to wobble and bow, the audience was nearly a greater spectacle than the band. When the lights went up on the whole venue, it was revealed even people on the balcony above were dancing.
The duo ran through material from all corners, including singles like “Waters of Nazareth,” mainstays “D.A.N.C.E.” and “Genesis,” a few glitchy mash-ups and mixes and what must have been at least five “Audio, Video, Disco” refrains. Their earliest output, still the most well known, was best received, instantly recognized by the audience and setting them easily to movement at the drop of a single beat. More recent material didn’t resonate as solidly, perhaps recalling how scarce on inspiration much of Audio, Video, Disco is and how the duo has only been able to re-appropriate its initial groove in scattered releases such as their remix of MGMT’s “Electric Feel” (that fact at least partly owed to the charisma of the original anyway). Capping off a fairly standard run-through of their work, they pumped an excellent “Phantom Pt. II” into an encore performance.
Responsive to stomping and howls once again, they returned for two more and then launched into Justice vs. Simian’s “We Are Your Friends,” reopening the cabinets and stepping forward to dole out high-fives afterward. A friend – halfway sauced in the bar, watching the last half of the show on the venue’s live monitors downstairs – might have had the best idea. In more thrilling moments when they, the crowd and the stage were lit like Christmas trees – say, during the horror-film ambulance wails of “Stress” or manic runs on “On’n’On” – and the duo kicked out the swells and bass, a little room was made for magic to sneak in. But as often as not (as my friend noted) de Rosnay and Augé would pull the track back to treble and electronic noodling and leave the crowd with their hands waving vaguely in the air, unsure what to do.
The ineffable urgency of their live act in the wake of 2007’s monumental † having diminished, and Audio, Video, Disco unable to close the enthusiasm gap, the duo don’t make for compelling performance. While a worthy weeknight venture, the experience afforded by Justice was one that could arguably be recreated at home with decent speakers, some creative lighting and a handful of your closest, sweatiest friends – giant light-up cross optional. For the time being, you might as well save your money.