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Rock-en-Seine 2009, Part 1: Oasis Make Way for Madness

View of the Domaine St-Cloud and Manufacture de Sèvres.

The first day of Rock en Seine 2009 starts off with beautiful weather as the masses file into the Domaine de Saint-Cloud. When I arrive at 3:45pm a French band called the Tatianas are just getting started on the Scène de l’Industrie, the smallest of the three stages at Rock-en-Seine.

The Tatianas at the Scène de l’Industrie.

Like most of the French bands at this year’s festival, The Tatianas have an English name and sing in English (Pierre, the young singer of this group, even manages an adorable British accent). I catch up with them later in the VIP section and ask them about their musical influences. They cite the Libertines, the Kinks, the Clash, the Pogues, and even Billie Holiday. “What about French bands?” I ask. They take a few minutes to think it over. “I think Serge Gainesbourg is the only real French rock star,” says Pierre. “Okay, but if you had to pick another French band to tour with you, who would it be?” I ask. “Stuck in the Sound, or SouryaI am un Chien” says Loïs. They’ve been touring in the UK, where they say they’ve had much better crowds than in France. “People seem more excited there. Even in Lille or the South of France the crowds are more enthusiastic. Paris is more difficult,” says Pierre.

Scenes around Rock-en-Seine, the Brazilian Bar and souvenir stand.

I take a wander around the festival grounds to see what’s new this year. Dry ground, for once! This is the first time in the past four years that there hasn’t been torrential rains in the days leading up to the festival, so the ground is dry as a bone. This will prove problematic in other ways towards the end of Day 3, but for now it’s a joy to be able to walk and sit anywhere without getting covered in mud and straw.

Dry ground and the Juice Bar.

Also new this year are the eco-friendly Toilettes Seches, or compost toilets. There are two areas for these and one area for the ordinary chemical toilets that we usually see. For journalistic purposes, I go have a peek. Granted, it’s still early on Day 1, but not only are they spotless, they also don’t smell. The canvas huts are nicer than the plastic port-a-pottie stalls, and the little bucket of sawdust keeps everything visually “neat”.

The Eco-toilets (the things I do for journalism).

Later in the day, I notice the lines for all three toilet areas stretching beyond belief. The men took to peeing up against the walls (again). Really, Rock-en-Seine, two or three more toilet areas will make everyone, especially the ladies, happier!

The Monster Energy Drink Stand, the grafitti art stand (street artists designed 400ml cans).

Some of the new stands this year include a free Water Bar by Suez Environnement (sorta ruined by the giant pile of plastic cups in the trash next to it), and a portrait stand by Converse. Guitar Hero, Levi’s, Heinekin, and SFR (with their live mini-concerts) had bigger stands this year. I don’t even know what was going on inside the Levi’s tent. The line to get in was almost as long as the one for the toilets, so I didn’t bother.

SFR tent with Hold Your Horses, and the Suez Water Bar.

The next memorable concert I attended was for the British group Keane, playing on the mid-sized Scène de la Cascade. I’m a huge fan of Keane’s music, and wished they’d had time to play more than just eight songs, but what’s up with Tom Chaplin’s over-theatrical stage performance? Did he get training by a boy-band stylist? It looked very forced, unnatural. What a distraction! (well, that and the two French guys in front of me who were imitating every one of Tom’s goofy postures) Still, I don’t think any of the thousands of screaming ladies cared.

Following Keane on the Scène de la Cascade were the legendary British group, Madness. Although I’m barely old enough to remember them in their prime, I still have fond memories of their signature song One Step Beyond, which was playing at the Phoenix nightclub I used to frequent at age 18, when some big brute ska dancing in his combat boots landed right on my left foot (amazingly he only broke one bone, I didn’t even get to wear a cast).

Madness singer Suggs at a pre-show interview, and saxophonist Lee Thompson during the set.

I had read before the show that Oasis, the headliners for Friday night, refused to play on the same stage as Madness. “They’re afraid of us,” was Madness’s reply, but not being prima donnas, they happily played on the smaller stage (yeah, foreshadowing). Suggs, Chas Smash, Lee Thompson and the gang came out wearing snazzy suits and opened with One Step Beyond (their dancing has improved with age, I must say), playing their classics (Baggy Trousers, Our House) mixed in with songs from their new album, The Liberty Of Norton Folgate. They may be ancient in Rocker years, but they’ve got a ton of energy in their show, and you can tell they’re having a blast. “We wish we could stay longer and play for you all night, but we have to go now,” they say at the end of their set.

It’s only 8pm at this point, but the weather has gotten chilly. I catch a bit of Bill Callahan, then watch the end of Vampire Weekend from the press tent, trying to thaw out before Oasis. I seriously consider just calling it a night. Even though I like a lot of Oasis’s earlier songs, I’m not exactly enthusiastic about going back out into the cold to watch them in the huge crowd. But one of the other journalists tells me they had a great performance at Bercy Stadium, and that they’re worth watching. So I burrow into the crowd for warmth in from of the Grand Scène at about 9:30pm and wait for the 10pm start.

At about 9:55pm, people notice there are not just roadies, but also Rock-en-Seine staff on the stage. Something is up. The singer from Bloc Party then gets on the stage and takes the microphone. In French, he begins to explain that Noel and Liam have had an argument, and that the band had split up and therefore there would be no concert. We all waited for the punchline. We thought it was a joke. An Englishman next to me asked what he was saying so I translated. Then, on the giant screens appeared a statement in French and English saying that due to an “altercation in the band” that the concert was cancelled. The crowd were informed to hold onto their tickets so that they could be reimbursed later.

The sign announcing the cancellation (watch the announcement here and booing here).

It suddenly sunk in. Oasis were not playing (read about the ugly fight and split here). Suddenly the crowd stars booing and heckling the stage. Some rude chanting that I won’t repeat here began in French. Then an announcement came that another band had kindly agreed to step in and perform. A familiar looking keyboard appeared on the stage. Madness would get to play on the Grand Scène after all!

While I’m sure a few people were disappointed, it seemed that the majority of the crowd stayed and had a great time. Madness came onstage in new suits and performed the exact same set (which wasn’t so bad since you knew when your favorite songs were coming), with as much, if not more energy than the first set. Those who came too late on Friday or otherwise missed their earlier show were thrilled. Madness were quite gracious about the whole thing. Aside from sneaking a few Oasis riffs into their songs, they only said one thing about the cancellation: “We just want to say that it’s a joy to play for you, and we can’t imagine why anyone would give up the chance to do this.”

As posted on their official website, “ROCK EN SEINE DOUBLE TAKE – MADNESS AVERT INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS MELTDOWN” (see the videos posted there) and a few comments from their fans:

I was happy that Oasis cancelled and I got to dance around like a crazy loon to Madness for a second time in one day!! At least Madness genuinely enjoy what they do and you can tell that they love being up on stage! If Oasis had played, they would have been very boring, just walk out, warble a bit and walk off. Madness provide a real show!! And Suggs looked rather dashing in a pink suit!!”

Hats off to you, gentlemen, for showing the kids how professionals do it.

Stay tuned for Day 2 of Rock-en-Seine, Oasis and Faith No More!

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