See Also: Justice, March 2008 profile
Let's review last night's Justice set by the numbers. The number of towering Marshall amps outfitted with LED lights: eighteen. The estimated rank of those bad boys on the volume scale: eleven. The number of smooth-operator Frenchmen in matching Justice World Tour '12 track jackets with matching confident smarm: two. The number of inches they stood apart from each other: three. The number of times they genuinely rocked: countless. The number of times they did anything truly noteworthy: zero.
Although it was gritty, showy and consistently seat-quaking, last night's performance from French duo Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé packed significantly more attitude than entertainment. Perhaps this is to be expected: Although frequently re-imagined in stunning new mash-ups and remixes, recreating Justice's two albums of material requires little investment aside from a few twists and tucks of its creators' fingers against their (copious) equipment. The difference between listening to them in a Honda Civic and driving that Civic to Morrison to hear them live is measured mostly in spectacle.
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From the first song -- a dark, off-kilter retelling of the national anthem -- the duo delivered an entrancing, if bottled, set of cult-like drama. Tucked into the center of two Marshall stacks connected by a glowing cross, de Rosnay and Augé drew no attention to themselves, instead funneling it entirely into waves of fractious sound as they lightly tapped their right feet in sync and bobbed their bowed heads to the unfaltering noise. While de Rosnay blew smoke from the end of his many cigarettes, Augé blew his Christ-like locks out of his face. Occasionally, during a particularly passionate moment, one of the men lifted his fist into the air.
From the faux-patriotic opening note, the guys transitioned quickly and deeply into darker territory with the ominous opening notes of "Genesis." As the stage cameras panned in on their shadowed faces, smoke rose from the sides of the stage, pierced only by the flashing light of the band's trademark white cross. The set traveled nimbly across first-album hits including "Phantom Pt. 1," "DVNO" and "Stress," all deftly turned loose and reinterpreted with added chaos across selections from last year's less fan-friendly Audio, Video, Disco.
Even mega-jam "D.A.N.C.E." took on more serious notes refracted across the band's expansive, bass-heavy live presence. As the guys twisted and turned knobs, heads focused down, to create sounds like so many full-orchestra screwdrivers and lawnmowers, lights filled the amphitheatre from all angles. When a song called for machine-gun bursts of warped synth, linear white lights mimicked the same spasms.
When the guys teased the audience with a slowed-down groove -- only to crescendo in cacophony shortly after -- the lights faked the same pass. After a quick reprisal of Justice vs. Simian's "We Are Your Friends," the guys turned to dynamic churner "Phantom Pt. II" before breaking it down, then just breaking it, to end the night.
For those, like the women in row six, who drove 980 miles from Texas to Colorado to see the Frenchmen, lights and loudness might have been quite enough, but those who expected the show's energy to match its sound likely left as unmoved as the duo appeared to be. Aside from a few stints at their glowing white piano, the guys moved only to raise their heads and seemingly check for motion in the crowd. But do we want our electronic gods to be man or machine?
In contrast, English dubstep DJ Rusko stood still approximately zero percent of his set, instead making sure both he and his considerable opening crowd were moving at all times. "This is a dubstep workout tonight!" he promised the audience. "You're losing pounds." Throughout a turbulent array of influences, Rusko shook his mohawked mane to a clever blend of reggae, dancehall, house and gritty club dub without appearing to break a sweat.
Personal Bias: I saw Justice the final show the final night at Coachella 2007, and, at the time, it was both the best and worst show of my life. I broke two ribs.
Random Detail: When I asked two interlopers blocking my sight to move, they admitted, "We're just gonna do drugs really fast and leave. We don't want our friends to see us." Well okay, then.
By the Way: The security guard who stood front and center throughout the show has some serious moves. I really hope someone caught that on video.
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