Words by: Chester Winsome | Images by: Arthur Shim
Justice :: 03.12.08 :: 9:30 Club :: Washington, DC
After a flashy electro set by Busy P - the Frenchman who not only runs Justice's label, Ed Banger Records, but also manages Justice and their forebears Daft Punk - the crowd at the sold-out 9:30 Club was treated to a real surprise oddity: booming local hip-hopper Wale. Taking the stage in support of his well-received mixtape, 100 Miles and Running, the DC rapper put a local stamp on what was otherwise a Franco-centric lineup.
What fit about his performance wasn't just his song "W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.," which repurposed the headliner's hit, but the familiarity he lent to the sweaty-packed auditorium. Dense and hot with people, it was the kind of show you could run into half your friends from around town, every new pocket of crowd an accidental reunion. And regardless of how many people came expecting Wale's appearance, it was clear that even more were pleased with it, as kids hung over the balcony to shout along to mixtape cuts as he rapped over M.I.A.'s "Boys" and the Mark Ronson-produced single, "Good Girls." Show me another opener that gets love like that.
When Justice finally came on, the stage transformed from an accessible podium into a pulpit for the French duo. Clad in signature leather vests, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, not a mustache hair out of place, dwarfed on either side by oversized squares of nine Marshall amps apiece. In the middle was a Cadillac DJ console of switches and LEDs, though with a decidedly retro appearance. If Daft Punk's setup is lifted from the set of Dr. Who then Justice's was on loan from the Batcave.
With their signature neon cross glowing in front of it all (and other cross-shaped beams of light punching through the cracks between the Marshall amps) it would be too easy to call the crowd a congregation. If there was any deity that night, as the French duo glided through nearly every cut of their album for an hour-plus set, it was the iconography of their debut album, Cross. For months leading up to the show, devoted fans had repeatedly played through the same 48-minutes of music, each time forming a more cogent image of what the album would look like live, a sort of mental music video. Justice chose not to mess with this.
The mental music video kicked off before its soundtrack as the band opened with a low, slow pulsing noise, like "Hell's Bells" coming out of Satan's subwoofers. It only heightened that pre-concert feeling in your stomach, when your mind starts projecting the show that's to come, visualizing sweaty dance moves, glowstick tosses, guessing at the opening song and encore selections.
Justice :: 03.12 :: Washington, DC
For fans eager to live out the album in three dimensions, Justice made it easy. First, they shot into "Genesis," complete with the doomy horn-and-tympani intro, following with "Let There Be Light," respectively the album's first two cuts. Though the song order would vary, the show continued in similar fashion as the DJs played no new material, and even calmed their choppy mixing, like on the skipped "Newjack," that makes Cross such a delightful mishmash.
They gave more than one sly nod to their ubiquitous "D.A.N.C.E.," inserting a slow, piano-colored version of the intro early in the set and then holding off on the full song until midway through the night.
One deviation from the album was "We Are Your Friends," Justice's club-banging remix of Simian's "Never Be Alone." Placing it toward the end of the set, they stretched out the shout-a-long chorus, pushing up the house lights to illuminate the thousand-plus fists pumping with shouts of unity.
Though the set ended with the violin-slick "Phantom Part II," the encore again rolled out the "We Are Your Friends" refrain, this time to a slow, yacht-rock piano soundtrack that gave way to a thrash-metal version. Though fans were cooperative with the new direction, the Pantera-esque take was incongruous with the rest of the show and a bit tough to dance to. This made the second half of the encore all the more welcome, as the night ended with the cool-down jam "Tthhee Ppaarrttyy" featuring Uffie's pre-recorded vocals and a lifted Three 6 Mafia riff.
While occasional creative forays like the metal-ized "We Are Your Friends" fell short, the crowd didn't come for a performance per se. Most were there just to live out the party experience that Cross hints at. There have been more memorable shows - the kind that ring in your ears and when you get home you throw on the band's record, knowing it can't beat the live experience but needing another taste. In that regard, Justice respectfully stayed out of the way. They put out an excellent record and in concert remained true to it. Now I can go home and keep on listening to it, over and over, without it being overshadowed by some unforgettable but unobtainable night. That in itself is a victory.
JamBase | DC
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