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Rock-en-Seine 2009, Part 3: Them Crooked Vultures and The Prodigy

The hand-made sign says “Where Are You?” (ou êtes vous), a handy way to find friends at Rock-en-Seine.

The final day of the festival was a bit hotter than the previous two, and the constant shuffling of the crowd between stages started kicking up a dustcloud that seemed to hover like smog at head height throughout the day. Some people had scarves wrapped around their mouths. It would have been a good time to put on one of those swine-flu masks.

Still, it didn’t seem to really slow anyone down. This is rock and roll, after all, not a classical music concert at the park. 😉

The first big concert of the day was performed on the Scène de l’Industrie by the French duo, Lily Wood & the Prick. Never heard of them? Neither had I before the festival, but apparently I’m the last one, because they had the small area in front of the stage completely packed, and put on a respectable show considering they’ve only played about a dozen times in public so far.

Lily Wood & the Prick are actually Nili Hadida & Benjamin Cotto (left), two youngsters who went to school together. They were both working in fashion, which may explain the funky kitsch outfits that Nili likes to wear. “My friend Madeleine made this” she says of the cardboard shoulder epaulettes sewn onto her dress. But as much as they like to dress up themselves and the stage, the duo are adamant that the music is what’s really important. Their music could be described as electro/folk/pop. And yes, they do sing in English. “I speak only English with one of my parents, so it’s a language I know well,” explains Nili, a tad defensive at the interview. “I have the right to sing in English because I know what I’m saying, and I feel like I can express myself better in English when I sing. We’re not just trying to be cool.”

Then she says what no other band will say out loud (but we all secretly know to be true): “It’s hard to sing rock music in French without sounding stupid.” I like this girl. And not just because she obviously hasn’t yet been “groomed” to respond to the press with inane soundbites. For a French girl she is refreshingly sans arrogance (her cell phone rings a few times during the interview, “it’s my dad” she admits sheepishly). Her voice is amazingly mature for her age (she doesn’t even look 19 years old) and the duo’s tunes are catchy, especially “Down the Drain” (video by Alex Turvey).

For the moment you will probably only find Lilly Wood & The Prick in France, since they didn’t find a particularly warm welcome in the UK: “Everyone has a band in London, and we don’t have much credibility because we’re a French band singing in English,” says Nili. “They’re very intimidating, but we would love to be able to play in the UK or the US.”

Back to the dust…

The adrogynous French singer Sliimy (left) performed his cheerful pop tunes (à la Mika) in a gold lamé jacket on the Scène de la Cascade, followed by Macy Gray on the Grand Scène as one last dose of “mellow” before Rock-en-Seine really began to heat up with Eagles of Death Metal.

Formed by Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme and Jesse “Boots Electric” Hughes, this is not a death metal band, despite the funny name. Not sure what the predominantly French and British crowd make of that hillbilly moustache. Hopefully it doesn’t start a trend. I’ve already had enough of the beard comeback in this town.

Their most popular song, “Wanna Be in LA” was performed with Josh Homme, who usually takes a back seat as songwriter (check out the mosh pit kicking up even more dust here). He must have run at full speed to get to the other side of the festival in time for his next gig with Les Petits Pois.

Unless you haven’t figured out how to Google yet, you know that the “secret” band performing at Rock-en-Seine under the goofy name Les Petits Pois (“green peas”) was none other than Them Crooked Vultures, made up of John Paul Jones on bass and keyboard (Led Zeppelin), Dave Grohl on drums (Foo Fighters), Josh Homme singing and guitar (QOTSA), and Alain Johannes on guitar (Eleven). They kept it secret even from the Rock-en-Seine organizers until the last minute, offering to play for a token fee in return for absolute secrecy. According to the festival organizers, they wanted people to pay attention to the music, not their names. Right.

John on the left, Josh in the center, Alain on the right, Dave hidden in back.

Lucky for them, they actually sounded better than expected. Not that one can expect much from a band whose songs we’ve never heard. Here are some great pics (and cheeky commentary) by Angelo Misterioso from his RockerParis blog. They started off pretty low key with Elephants (here’s a funny video of the crowd chanting “Petit Pois!” as the band arrives onstage, and another as the crowd chants for John Paul Jones here). Note: The French can’t easily pronounce “Them Crooked Vultures”, even if they wanted to!

MGMT followed with a respectable set that settled back into electro-rock…here’s a video of them singing their popular song Time to Pretend. The Klaxons played their progressive electro rock on the Scène de la Cascade, but it seems everyone was just camping out in front of the Grand Scène waiting for The Prodigy (don’t leave out the “The”, duh).

It was the last show on the last day (with respect to Patrick Wolf on the little stage, who hopefully got some foot traffic as the tired masses filed past on the way to the exit), so anyone who didn’t feel they had “rocked” enough took the opportunity to have one last dance party in from of the Grand Scène. An hour before, people were already camped out. We weren’t even that close to the stage, and like most of the people around us probably thought our group of eight would be far from the moshing masses.

Fans waiting for The Prodigy to start (note the beards).

Nope. Even if only a handful of The Prodigy songs are widely recognized, the anticipation and opening notes were enough to send the entire audience into a frenzy, kicking up plastic cups, sweaty bodies, and an even bigger cloud of dust. Which was a good thing, because it forced everyone to calm down between songs as they gasped for oxygen, and let the dust clear so we could see the stage again (here is a video of Breath/Firestarter, à propos).

In fine form after five years since their last tour, The Prodigy played with extraordinary energy. It was only mildly annoying that Maxim kept addressing us as “The French” (at least a quarter of the crowd, if not more, were not French at all). My British friends referred to the band’s style as “dance music”, but in the USA I suppose we called it “rave music” back in the day (“dance music” being a bit more like ABBA or Madonna). Here are some “official” photos of the concert. You can see the dust behind Maxim and Keith…they certainly didn’t need to use the fog machine!

The view from the crowd as The Prodigy wrap up Rock-en-Seine 2009.

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