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Friday, February 16, 2018

Joy Division: Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979


1) Disorder; 2) Love Will Tear Us Apart; 3) Insight; 4) Shadowplay; 5) Transmission; 6) Day Of The Lords; 7) 24 Hours; 8) These Days; 9) A Means To An End; 10) Passover; 11) New Dawn Fades; 12) Atrocity Exhibition; 13) Digital; 14) Dead Souls; 15) Auto­suggestion; 16) Atmosphere.

General verdict: A kick-ass slab of prime Joy Division live power — just a little too short for perfection.

So much of the officially and semi-officially released Joy Division archival material is prime sonic crap that Les Bains Douches squarely falls in the «where have you been all my life» cate­gory. After all the audience-recording quality stuff that was made available on Heart And Soul or as bonus packages for other albums, all of a sudden, in 2001 we get nine tracks and thirty-six minutes of live Joy Division in their prime — in fabulous sound quality, at least when compared to everything else. The mix is a bit rough, the balance between the band and the audience is not perfect, but for the first time ever (discounting some of the radio sessions that were recorded in studio environments), you actually get to hear the guitar, the bass, the drums, and the vocals as connected, but separate entities, loud and clear. Why, of all places, this had to be a small dance club in the heart of Paris, converted from an older public bath facility (hence the name), remains a bit of a mystery — but at least it had some great acoustics to it.

Even better, the band was hot on that particular night, playing well-tested material from Un­known Pleasures along with a few newer tracks from the upcoming Closer with such verve that the show occasionally seems almost oriented at traditional «classic rock fans» than modernist New Wavers. It does not take more than the first track to understand the difference — ʽDisorderʼ, opening both Pleasures and this concert, sounds like two completely dissimilar entities. Morris and Hook, in particular, are energetic beasts in this setting, rather than a couple of Kraftwerkian robots under Hannett's titular supervision; and Sumner's guitar tone can't help but be thicker and gruffer in order to hold its own against the power punch of the rhythm section. Does this make the live versions better? No — it simply makes Joy Division qualify for that small category of rock bands whose «live face» and «studio face» emphasize different strengths and aspects of their songs; and if we have their producer to thank for it, well, this is who we are going to thank.

Among the various highlights here is ʽShadowplayʼ (simply because it is probably my favorite JD song, and it makes me happy every time they do it justice); a noisy, over-the-top, and fairly rare performance of ʽDay Of The Lordsʼ, not as Sabbath-esque as in the studio version, but drowning the audience in non-stop barrages of power chords; and a «tempest take» on ʽA Means To An Endʼ, where even Curtis is infected by the vicious and violent playing style to the point of showing a few teeth — his "I put my trust in you!" here is the implicit equivalent of "I put my trust in you, BITCH!!", and he even pulls that off convincingly. A relative lowlight is ʽLove Will Tear Us Apartʼ, but only because Sumner's synth is horrendously out of tune — and so loud and whiny that it brings an unnecessarily amateurish flavor to the concert. But it is possible to learn to live with that once the original shock has passed.

Sadly, the entire show, or the entire salvageable part of the show, was so short that the album had to be beefed up by tracks from two other performances (in Amsterdam and Eindhoven) — quite comparable in the level of energy and dedication, but not in terms of sound quality: these last seven tracks are murkier, dirtier, and more reminiscent of what we already knew. Their inclusion does make the whole experience more comprehensive, throwing in Closer-era material like ʽAtrocity Exhibitionʼ and soulful favorites like ʽAtmosphereʼ; but only the tracks from the real Bains Douches, I am afraid, will warant repeated listens. Still, even a half-hour show in profes­sional sound quality from these guys is a blessing — and considering how few classic live albums there are in general from the «Silver Age of Rock Music», Les Bains Douches, despite coming twenty years late to the party, might make a strong contender for the top five.

1 comment:

  1. "Shadowplay" will always kick ass, and this recording is the best! Everyone sounds so expressive and vicious. "Transmission" is also another highlight just for Bernard's tone and Ian's screams.

    I have a feeling that this recording of "A Means to an End" is based on an earlier draft as Ian's vocal melody is different in the first verse. It sounds a little sarcastic compared to the seriousness of the studio cut. The rest of the song has the same melody as later recordings, but it's a fun artifact nonetheless.