Easy you might think. Just concentrate on the effect the music has on the crowd, what said shifty-looking gentlemen did during the set – you know, traditional journalistic stuff. Now, imagine you can’t see them at all. Or that you’re not even at the concert. Or, to hell with it, you weren’t even in the same continent at the time.
DJ-based kings of Gallic cool Justice have decided to release – perhaps for the one trendy-fringed hipster and his dog who managed to miss them on their seemingly never-ending tour of the world’s party hotspots – a live CD and DVD of their night spent at the wonderfully-named Concourse Exhibition Center, San Francisco (really, they could have least have recorded it at “Le Absinthe du Poisson Mort, Paris” for authenticity). And, other than being a fitting tribute to their obvious talent at driving audiences across the world absolutely flipping bonkers, it’s difficult to see what point this foray into live album territory actually serves.
Live albums have always carried with them the slight stench of profiteering. You’ve been flogged the record, the concert ticket, the uber-expensive commemorative t-shirt and then, just as you think the record companies have squeezed every last penny out of you, along comes a clumsily-assembled video montage, recorded by a bunch of cack-handed recent media graduates for your Christmas delectation. Sometimes, you get a good one – a one-off recording of a seminal moment in music that, well, if you weren’t there, at least you can harp on about “Judas” Bob Dylan going electric, or about the pure adrenaline rush of The Who’s Live at Leeds.
Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay, although talented young producers capable of making some of the best dance music in the world, haven’t captured these moments here. Perhaps it’s unfair to ask for it – they are DJs first and foremost, but the least a buyer can expect is a little personality infusing the set, a reason that their quirky European bedfellows 2manyDJs have been so successful both live and on CD. There is little of this here, although there are well-tooled versions of all but two of the tracks on their critically-acclaimed album Cross.
There is some good stuff. A mighty metal outro to We Are Your Friends oscillates so wildly that you find yourself checking the speakers, and a version of D.A.N.C.E that sounds like the best party that you, sitting alone on the bus with your headphones on, isn’t having. The moment the entire set comes to a climax, with a heavily-remixed version of Soulwax’s NY Excuse, is a distillation of all the best things about the CD, with euphoric bleeps kicking into the kind of fist pumping, robotic-voiced dance track that would make you cry with joy at Fabric – just not on the 137 to Streatham Hill.
Newcomers to Justice will find A Cross the Universe only an occasionally endorphin-boosting experience, with most of the rest of the record a polished, if soulless recording of a group nearing the height of its powers. For the fans, this will serve as an excellent reminder of halcyon sweaty club nights this summer, but even then there’s still the feeling that we’re mopping up the Concourse Exhibition Center audience’s sloppy seconds here.