Concert Review: Yan Wagner at Festival Les Inrocks (Paris)

Mai Lan (Paris), Yan Wagner (Paris), and Benjamin Biolay (Villefranche-sur-Saône, France)
November 11th, 2012
Festival les Inrocks at La Cigale in Paris, France

La Cigale is quickly becoming a favorite venue in Paris, much as la Flèche d’or was a few years back. It’s gold shell ceiling and embracing balcony provides rather stunning views of concerts; unless the concert is sold out and jammed on either side-then your outta luck. That was the case for visually seeing most of Benjamin Biolay, but fortunately was not the case for the two other artists performing Sunday night’s Paris concert for the Festival Les Inrocks.

Les Inrocks is essentially the biggest music publication here in France. Paper magazine, website, everything. Once a year, they throw a massive festival on a national scale that encompasses not only Paris, but Lille, Caen, Lyon, Nantes, Marseille and Toulouse with days of high quality music. The scale is impressive. The lineup balanced between new French (Lescop, Saint Michel, The Lanskies) and solid international talent (Hot Chip, Pulp, Alt-J, Haim). The lineup Sunday night was delightfully eclectic with the pop Mai Lan and French favorite Biolay sandwiched around electro-disco-crooner Yan Wagner. For a concert, it was refreshing to have a diverse lineup.

Yan took to the stage with his new lineup. Prior to late summer, he took to stages solo before adjusting the experience to both free him up to interact more with the crowd without compromising the sober, Depeche Mode-esque electro. America has yet to relish in the new set-up with Rémy and Alexandre on keys and synths. Now, he’s added video projections, including a pulsating heart monitor that enhanced the urgent pulsations on la Cigale’s stage.

As someone who’s relatively fresh to electro, the setting makes the difference. But now, Yan Wagner’s got the framework to conquer. “Abstinence” now has the added contrast to the disco bounce, thanks to the new trio setup. No longer were eyes drawn to just Yan based on the fascination at the courage one guy must have to perform solo in front of hundreds, but freed up to the synthetic beats that feel as light as 80s NES characters running full speed and free from the threat of pixelated enemies. “Changed,” which came up early in the night, and “Vanished” stood out, which would have provoked the salle to dance, had the Biolay crowd been a little younger perhaps. But Yan didn’t seem deterred, using the newfound freedom of a trio by going into the crowd a little over halfway into his set. I hadn’t seen him more relaxed, not in Texas nor when Neon Gold brought him out at Nouveau Casino to open for Savoir Adore. If you’re a fan of ditching the taxis at night for strutting down the streets, pick up Yan Wagner’s Forty Eight Hours.

Mai Lan began the evening, performing her wonderfully varied pop. It’s lighthearted, reminiscent of Colbie Caillat or perhaps a touch of Natasha Bedingfield. “Dai Dai” was beautifully fresh and fun, while her single “Easy” highlighted how strong her voice sounds, almost in the vein of a less angsty Alanis Morissette. “Schumacher” jostled the crowd into movement, a surfer Brit-rock number that I definitely preferred to most of her music (especially compared to “Les huîtres”, a 70s pop disco number which seemed slow going). When she shifted up the gears, such as on “Hard Joy” with its dirty acoustic and claps, Mai Lan was majestic. The slower ballads just couldn’t keep up as well. I definitely was won over regardless.

Benjamin Biolay ended the evening, following Yan’s set and leaving the Cigale packed to the gills with eager ears. I’ll confess right now; I didn’t know much about him going in, since no one has heard word of him back in the States, but a definite pang of regret for not knowing him sooner struck. He’s a key player in music here, brother of pop artist Coralie Clément, and has worked with François Hardy and Keren Ann. Oh, and he’s the ex of Carla Bruni, now dating Vanessa Paradis. His album Vengeance was just released here, and thus that album highlighted much of the evening. His stage presence effortlessly exerted that classic French cool from the 70s, working the crowd more as a poet than a singer (once again, coming from American perspective). “La Superbe” and “Aime mon amour” were the beginning of the sweet spot in the set. The latter far more memorable, the chorus raising his voice higher up to wash over a crowd beyond happy for Biolay. Though the end of the set proved to be the icing on the cake. “Ne regrette rien” saw celebrated rapper OrelSan give a dichotomous performance of agitation to the calm delivery from most of the night.

“Brandt rhapsodie” filled the obligatory encore with one of the better encores I’ve seen this year. The song is the conversation between a man and his wife, recorded and this night performed by Jeanne Cherhal, following their lives over the years. It’s simple in concept, but beautifully executed. The snapshots detailing love deteriorate in time in a sort of miserable tragedy. On stage, anything but. I hadn’t discovered the song until days just prior thanks to a very great French friend, but after the night, and seeing how important Biolay is to the storied timeline of French music, it’ll remain marked and quickly a newly discovered favorite.

Thoughts?