LIVE MUSIC: Justice @ The 9:30 Club - 3/21/12

As one of the few people who fully embraced Justice’s flirtation with prog rock on Audio, Video, Disco (see our review here), I was very interested to see how the new direction would manifest in the live show. Interestingly enough, the way the French electro duo decided to bring their homage to prog rock to the stage was by mashing the new material up with the heavy, dark, beat-driven sounds of their first album. However, the pyschedelic, high-end focused, melody-driven tracks from AVD can’t really stand up to the more powerful in-your-face beats of Cross.

The result was a performance that, for me, more closely resembled their previous sold-out 9:30 Club performance almost exactly four years earlier than the material on the album they are currently promoting. That said, while the performance did not seem as experimental or challenging as AVD, the crowd at this year’s sold-out 9:30 Club performance was treated to an evening of hard-hitting, nearly nonstop beats served up by one of the biggest names in dance music.

 

Justice has always been proud of their live show (as evidenced by the fact that their second full-length release, A Cross the Universe, was a live album capturing a performance from their 2008 North American Tour) and this pride is well-placed. Justice’s set plays like the best DJ sets: virtually uninterrupted music that is deliberately paced with appropriate builds and breaks interspersed with the long, driving, shake-your-ass numbers.

The show last Wednesday nailed this, but it also highlighted some of the impersonality and detachedness of electronica performances. It is not just that the duo never said a word to the crowd, but for the majority of the show, Justice performed from behind a stage feature composed of about a dozen LED-faced Marshall amps and what looked like a giant stack of sound gear. In effect, this setup made physical the metaphorical wall at the edge of the mixing board that typically separates a DJ from his audience.

On the two occasions when a member of the group descended from the platform and came in front of the wall of amps to play in a synthesizer for a song, bringing him closer to the audience, he did so with his back to the crowd. Although not completely off-putting, this aspect of the performance stands in sharp contrast to shows by groups like Glitch Mob that emphasize the showmanship of a live performance. It also seems inconsistent with the distinctly rock-inspired sound of AVD. While this aspect of the show stuck out, it did not limit the enthusiasm and excitement of the sold-out crowd.