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LIVE REPORT: Savages
Russell Williams , December 7th, 2015 14:52

Russell Williams reports from the Maroquinerie in Paris

Photo by TIM

Lots of friends have been writing their responses to the shootings and suicide bombings that took place in Paris three weeks ago. They've been doing the best they can to bear testament to the unspeakable, almost unwriteable, things that took place on their doorsteps. I'll be honest, while I've been smiling and muttering politely when people mention their Paris pieces, I've mostly been a little disingenuous. While I respect their needs to express or work through what they've been living, I've preferred not to read about the murders that took place just down the road from my flat in bars, restaurants and at the Bataclan. It's not that I'm not interested, but much like I choose not to read the obituaries of the victims that Le Monde have put into regular rotation or interviews with grieving relatives, I've rather been coming to terms with my own unsteadiness, my own mixture of shock, numbness, outrage and fear about what took place on November 13th by reading novels, listening to music and diving into work.

Last week, I went to a talk by leading academic. She prefaced her speech with a few remarks about how Paris was getting back quickly into the groove, how the famous French résistance spirit was demonstrated by Parisians defiantly returning to their favourite bars and cafés and dining outside à la terrasse, in places exactly like the ones the killers had targeted. At the time, I thought she over-egged this point, I think Paris, in fact, is still recoiling. Cafés are less full that you might expect. The place is quiet. People are still rattled and normalcy still seems a long way off. She also, slightly naively, stressed what she described as the "democracy" of the Paris cafés – although its rare to see anyone other than white 20-30 somethings wining and dining in the very east Parisian "melting pots" she wanted to champion.

As part of returning to a normal routine, I'm keen to get back into the habit of gig going. This requires, perhaps, a slightly bigger leap of faith as a way of beating the terrorists than eating and drinking outside. One of the reasons so many people died at the Bataclan was that, as well as the icy determination of the killers; it is, like all venues, a closed space. It was hard to escape. Thinking about getting back to watching live music sees my mind stray to the irrational – if the murderers have been killing gig goers as an attack on their "perverse" hedonistic lifestyles, then aren't all gigs viable targets? Is going to see Savages at the Maroquinerie, an east-Paris venue not too far from the Bataclan, putting myself at risk? Posters advertising the gig, with a definitely-raised female fist started appearing around Paris before the November attacks – what if this was enough to provoke a follow-up atrocity?

This show was always going to be special, even before what happened last month. It is the first in the Savages diary following a live hiatus spent recording their anticipated new album, Adore Life. Savages are known for their live intensity and the Maroquinerie is a compact bowl-shaped venue that, just like its bigger brother Bataclan, has a tendency of forcing memorable shows from the bands that play there. This is also a homecoming gig, since Savages' Pop Noire record label is housed in the same building. The poignancy was obviously made more acute by recent events. Due to cancellations, this is the first gig that many there have been to since the murders. Maroquinerie press manager Thomas Duperron was one of killed at the Bataclan, and a shrine of sorts with tributes and flowers has grown outside the venue.

It is, then, with a mixture of trepidation, excitement and emotion that the sell-out crowd trickle through the doors. The room fills up late. Is this down to the lack of support band or do gig goers, like me, need an extra pint to steady their nerves before heading inside? The mood is tense, edgy. Gig-goers are checking each other out even more than usual for a Paris crowd with a mixture, I suspect, of both suspicion and solidarity. More than a couple take a glance at where the emergency exits are. I do too, for that creeping irrational terror is never far away at the moment.

Savages won't have wanted, of course, to have played out the gig in such a tragic context, but Jehnny Beth and co. use their intense focus to transfer the tension into something joyous and beautiful yet respectful of the memory of the dead. It's an incorrect cliché that Parisian crowds are restrained and tonight, after a couple of songs, the whole room is bouncing. It feels like an outpouring of emotion, possibly feelings held in check over recent weeks. I cry a couple of times. The mood is set from when the house lights dim and the crowd chatter silences, a voice from the back of the room calls out, "On est avec vous" (We are all with you). From the set opener 'I Need Something New', through to set-closer 'Fuckers' with its timely "Don't let the fuckers get you down" refrain, this is Savages showcasing a lightly revamped, slightly heavier sound. New song 'The Answer' a good example of the type of mood we can expect from the new album, at times even matching Rage Against the Machine or At The Drive In for focussed brutality. The lyrics of 'Shut Up' and, particularly the new tracks 'Evil' and 'Adore' Life all take on a cathartic, even ceremonial role here. It feels much more effective than a minute's silence.

Much has been written about Jehnny Beth's stage presence. Tonight – hair Brylcreemed back, black bomber-jacket and thousand yard stare – her moves, energy and sense of occasion see her thriving in the heavy atmosphere, at one point climbing almost to the back of the hall on fans' shoulders, like an early 1970s Iggy. The night's emotional high point is probably musically its weakest, but that doesn't matter one bit. Savages cover The Eagles Of Death Metal's 'Love You All The Time', with Jehnny Beth informing us of her friendship with the group.

Tonight is a one-off in all sorts of ways, but signs are promising for both the Savages new album, and the tour kicking off in the New Year. These gigs won't, we hope, have the same poignancy, but it will be interesting to see how the tightness and intensity of this band come across in larger venues like the Manchester Albert Hall and the Paris Cigale. For me, this is above all also an encouraging sign that life can indeed return back to normal in Paris. As far as I'm concerned, the inclusive and diverse Savages crowd represents a truer "melting pot" than the Paris cafés and exactly the type of place where true healing will start.  I bump into a friend after the gig who jokingly says she is determined to marry Jehnny Beth on the back of her performance tonight. She tells me that one of her friends was killed on November 13th.  Paris will get back to its routine, but we aren't quite there yet. Nights like tonight, and bands like Savages will help.

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