Hot Chip, Academy, Bristol; Johnny Hallyday, Royal Albert Hall, London
Brainy beatmakers go down a storm by targeting both head and feet
Sunday 21 October 2012
Every dance act with a brain, from Underworld onwards, has faced the same challenge: to balance the physical with the cerebral. In Hot Chip's case, it's a question of how to translate a series of albums featuring such curveballs as barbershop harmony and philosophical meditations into a format that will please a crowd chiefly concerned with 'avin' it large.
It may be a cheap trick to lift a line out of context, but when Alexis Taylor sings "We try, but we don't belong", in misfits' anthem "Boy from School", Hot Chip's dilemma is flagged up as early as the second song. Their task is to pretend that on a stage, in front of a couple of thousand party monsters, is where they belong.
Sensible head-nodders to a man, apart from a caped guitarist who looks like he's accidentally strayed from the Marillion tour bus and an incongruously hot female drummer, Hot Chip don't give us much in the way of visuals: just a few perfunctory puffs of smoke.
But if they don't offer much for the eyes, Hot Chip at least know how to target the feet. They front-load the set with their most ready-for-the-floor moments. "Don't Deny Your Heart", "One Life Stand" and "Over and Over" hit the heights of prime New Order, while storming recent single "Night and Day" ensures that the odour of sweat mingles with the scent of mildew in the upstairs bar.
By the time they drop the pace for the acoustic R&B of "Look at Where We Are", another city has submitted to Hot Chip's will. Even Alexis is taken aback. "We're sexy? Is that what someone said?!"
It's one of the average British music fan's laziest assumptions that the French don't do pop. Exhibit A in the Francophobe's armoury has always been Johnny Hallyday, "the French Elvis". Born Jean-Philippe Smet into a family of clowns and actors, it's undeniable that his early career followed Presley's a couple of paces behind, from re-recording the King's hits in French to sparking riots at his shows. But to the French, he is the real deal. And the stats are impressive: 100 million record sales, 18 platinum albums, and collaborations with Jimmy Page, Otis Redding and The Small Faces. The Jimi Hendrix Experience once opened for him on tour, and there's an amazing film clip of JH and JH trying to blow smoke rings. Hendrix fails; Hallyday succeeds.
Since then, after an abandoned hippie phase, a rock opera based on Hamlet, a brief film career, a botched back operation which left him in a coma, a bout of colon cancer, a reirement quickly followed by an un-retirement, an unfortunate fondness for Nicolas Sarkozy and a Légion d'Honneur, Hallyday's national treasure status among the French is assured, despite tax exile.
And it's his fellow French expats the 69-year-old cares about as he plays what is, amazingly, his first concert here since the Sixties. The last time this many French people were gathered on British soil, a bunch of nuns made a tapestry about it afterwards. A grizzled beast in a black leather jacket, leather trousers, silk shirt slashed to the waist and leather glove, he is adored by his countrymen and women, a gruff "Ça va?" enough to send the Albert Hall crazy.
Aside from a light coating of fancy video effects, Hallyday keeps things simple. "Je Suis Né dans la Rue" and "Envie" are Springteenesque Eighties rock, "RnR Attitude" and "Toute la Musique" fist-pumping bluesy grinds which wouldn't sound out of place in a Tom Jones set, while "Diego" and "Quoi Sa Gueule" are brooding, dramatic ballads.
Not that it's all fromage. His "Requiem Pour Un Fou" is brilliantly badass and his reworking of The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" as "Le Pénitencier" is rather fine.
At the exits, posters show Hallyday, completely devoid of irony, straddling a motorbike. The French wouldn't have him any other way.
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