Rock en Seine Day 3 – It’s a Wrap
After three days and 90,000 attendees, Rock en Seine came to a satisfying close on a not-so-lazy Sunday in Paris. Our final day focus will be an eclectic one, including Wolf Alice, The Regrettes, Macklemore, and Haute.
Women (and Men) Who Rock en Seine: Wolf Alice
Arriving at the festival Sunday afternoon to catch an early set by The Regrettes, I hardly expected to see Wolf Alice in the backstage press area holding an interview with the French press and a translator. “Hey, how are you? Good to see you again,” chimed lead guitarist Joff Oddie, joined by bandmates in a smile, a wave, and a nod in my direction. I had seen the hardworking, ever-touring band several times during their road to renown, and interviewed them when they first came to Los Angeles nearly four years ago. That interview was my first for XSNoize.com and the band’s first ever to be published in France, so I was proud and excited by the announcement that the London 4-piece would grace the Main Stage at Rock en Seine this year.
Yet as I watched the band being interviewed, I was concerned. They looked tired. Exhausted, in fact. And they have every right to be. It’s been a hectic year and an even more manic month. At the beginning of August, Wolf Alice set Twitter a-flutter, declaring they were going to “say goodbye for a while”, taking a break from touring and gearing up for a third album.
This month they’ve been to Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Australia, and China, in addition to putting on a remarkable BBC Radio 1 Stage headlining set at Reading and Leeds just prior to touching down in Paris. Come November, they return to Asia, and in December will finish up the year with massive dates in London and Manchester.
In the past year, they’ve tallied their second career Mercury Prize nomination and their second #2 album in the UK charts with Visions of a Life. When I asked them backstage what that felt like, bassist Theo Ellis gushed “We’re incredibly proud and we hope the third album is also #2. We want to be the band that’s always second. In fact, we’d be really annoyed if it went to #1.”
Despite this momentary jovial burst, I wondered if the band would have the stamina to maintain their unbroken 7-gig record of playing shows better and more daring than the last I had witnessed. I was prepared to be indulgent, expecting that every band has an off day and that perhaps Wolf Alice would choose to “phone it in” on stage that day.
Shame on me.
Wolf Alice raged onstage with the howl of “Ahhhhhhhhhhh” and screaming guitar that begins “Your Love’s Whore”. The live version, of this song, and so many others in the band’s repertoire, is more raw, frenetic, and harder hitting than the studio-produced versions of the songs. Wolf Alice pours spontaneity, surprise, and raison d’être into the live experience. My seventh Wolf Alice concert still feels as new and exciting as the first and the band continues to grow in musicality, performance, and risk-taking.
Not only do they sound fantastic, they look great. Theo, in particular, was at the height of chic in a pale grey suit and a bass strap that added a shock of pink. Layers gradually peel away throughout the set until he finishes in a tank top, and likely a litre or two of perspiration lighter from the intense physicality of his playing and performance. Bass players need not be boring and Theo Ellis is a prime specimen to illustrate this maxim.
The set zig-zags recklessly yet seamlessly between album one, My Love is Cool, and album two Visions of a Life. Both records are Main Stage worthy material and both are delivered with the same artless abandon. The spoken, sultry-rapped passages in “Don’t Delete The Kisses” followed by the soaring moments of “St Purple and Green” give the crowd a moment to breathe and sway to Ellie Rowsell’s lovely and versatile voice that espouses dreamy sweetness as effortlessly as it emits a strident scream.
“Beautifully Unconventional” would follow. Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell, dressed in a silky white negligee atop black lingerie happens to look beautifully unconventional herself, like a grunge version of her Marilyn Monroe-esque retro persona from the music video of the song.
The frontwoman of the Wolf Alice has always seemed thoughtful and naturally introverted in person, albeit more expansive on stage but almost in a “one of the boys” kind of way. She recently joked on social media, “I’m a female frontman.” Without diving too deeply into gender role analysis, I’d opine that at Rock en Seine I witnessed an Ellie Rowsell more comfortable with her own beauty and charms than I’d seen previously. She took moments to stroll down the stage steps to the catwalk, sit on the stairs and communicate directly with the crowd, often unencumbered by a guitar, with expressive body language. It was a pleasure to witness and I hope this “female frontman” will continue to display her genuine femininity in both its sexy and savage incarnations.
“Silk,” “Bros,” “Space & Time,” “Visions of a Life,” “Fluffy,” “Moaning Lisa Smile...” the repertoire sashay between albums would keep the audience blissfully guessing until the final show-stopping and set-concluding “Giant Peach”. Bravo, Wolf Alice.
Two EPs, two albums, four years, and seven sets later, Wolf Alice remains as fresh and thrilling as they seemed the first time I saw them live. Correction, they’re better. They’re still growing, exploring, experimenting, and inventing. May the shapeshifting persist indefinitely. May the band never actually find “their style” and may fans continue to get lost in their music.
The Regrettes Sans Regrets
LA punkabilly rockers Lydia Night and her nearly all-female backing band, collectively known as The Regrettes, got the Cascade Stage crowd at Rock en Seine moving, jumping and moshing. Not long before stepping on the stage in Paris, they had crossed the Channel following a successful stint at Reading & Leeds Festival “where people like to jump a LOT!” or so Lydia told the crowd, fueling a friendly Franco-English fan rivalry to see who could jump the most.
Young Ms Night knows how to command an audience with assurance and by example. Her boundless energy and deep timbered voice that surprises in contrast to diminutive size and perky blonde ponytail. The Regrettes set encompassed fan favourites “Hey Now,” “A Living Human Girl,” “Red Light,” & “Come Through” that were flanked by two new songs. One of the new tunes including the question “Do you like the freckles on my face?” seemed to grab the crowd with its catchiness.
A cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name” dripped with attitude.
Drummer Drew Thomsen, Genessa Gariano on guitar and Sage Chavis deserve ample kudos for their performances and backing vocals as well. Rock en Seine would prove to be one of the last gigs with Sage as a member of The Regrettes. It was recently announced via the band’s Instagram.
that the bassist has chosen to leave the band, but that friendships remain intact. The Regrettes further announced that they will be releasing an album in 2019.
Macklemore, Showman Extraordinaire
Nearly five years to the day before Macklemore’s headlining Rock en Seine set, I had the good fortune of attending a small event at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles where the artist talked about his career. When discussing how involved he was in the day-to-day operations, he mused, “I never expected to spend so much time talking about fonts.” That intense devotion to details and production values, and ensuring that fans have the best possible experience, was more than evident in Macklemore’s set in Paris. There was never a dull moment, numerous costume changes, talented musicians, choreography, energy, amusing banter, and joy. The sheer physicality of the unlikely Irish-Seattleite rapper was impressive as he ran from one end of the stage to the other, jumping, dancing, skipping, and spinning on his merry way. Videos played in the background to punctuate lyrics with meaning, stunning graphics, or off-kilter humour. The Macklemore hits were there, from the earlier “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us”, and the meaningful “Same Love” to the more recent “Downtown”, “Glorious”, “Gemini” and “Willie Wonka”, the latter complete with costume.
Rock en Seine was a family affair for Macklemore who had spent the week prior in Paris, “his favourite city in Europe” hanging out with his family. His young daughter made an appearance on stage both briefly at the beginning of the set and toward the end for a charming daddy-daughter dance off that tugged at everyone’s heartstrings.
It’s hard to deny that the set was a masterful feel-good fête that glued a smile to the faces of each and every person there. When the set had ended and the artist had exited, James Brown’s “I Feel Good” blared over the PA and the post-show crowd began dancing and singing. The boogie continued as we all wiggled our way to the next gig, knowing that THAT was a moment and that there is tremendous power in tens of thousands of people putting their hands up “like the ceiling can’t hold us”.
“Elle est trop belle!” (She’s too beautiful!), exclaimed an audience member as the lead singer of the Franco-American duo Haute, took to the stage and performed a tuneful number called “Round.” Chanteuse Anna Magidson is indeed attractive, magnetic, in fact, radiating a slow burn, torch singer-esque flame and gliding with feline femininity across the stage. Her soulful, effortless, melisma-licious singing meanders seductively between R&B, contemporary adult pop, and hip-hop—sometimes even approaching songs that wouldn’t feel out of place as musical theatre show tunes--without ever truly settling on a genre. There was poise and presence. I was intrigued and captivated.
Completing the duo known as Haute is Romain Hainaut on keyboards and occasionally sharing lead vocal duties, including on the highly applauded and widely streamed track “Shut Me Down”. Anna and Romain met and began making music together as students of Montreal’s McGill University where living in the in the same street and frequenting overlapping social media musical circles eventually led to crossed paths and lives. Following a couple EPs and a handful of singles, an album seems like a logical next step. It may be a while before Haute tours internationally, but curious discoverers of new music can catch the full Rock en Seine set here.
Special thanks to photographer Christophe Crénel whose work can be found here.