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  Les Bains Douches, 18.December.1979  
  Joy Division  
  NMC / Factory  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:

It was raining in Paris when we got to Les Bains Douches. I wonder what that means, "Les Bains Douches"? I also wonder why the French bother to put the letter "s" on the end of words, but don't ever bother to pronounce it! It seems like such a waste of time...

At any rate, Les Bains Douches is a small dive, typical of rock clubs the world over -- dirty floors, too much old graffiti on the walls of the restroom. One difference is that, this being France, the cheap beer is even crappier. The French are not known for their beer, and there is a reason for this. So i grab my $2 glass of crappy French beer and saunter to the middle of the club to listen.

Joy Division go on late, no surprise there -- what rock club in what country has ever run on time? They go on late, and angry. Apparently they have not had a great day, and being a punk band they are going to take it out on their instruments.

From the opening chords of Disorder they are sheer fury and passion. Peter Hook thwaps away at his bass as if it had personally killed his mother. Bernard Sumner's guitar wails in agony as he thrashes it around, flinging power chords like he is shaking dirt off of the instrument. Drummer Stephen Morris plays frenetic and fast and furious.

And Ian Curtis, well, he is there and not there. The vocals are sung as if he is a million miles away, and yet they are infinitely personal. As if he is terribly distracted by something, and at the same time confiding his deepest secret to you, his new best buddy. There is immediacy and distance both intertwined in his voice.

They played a great set too, tearing through fabulous versions of Transmission and Shadowplay. All fury, energy, screeching guitars, and distant yet immediate vocals.

And they played Love Will Tear Us Apart, as i knew they would. But it's a different version. Instead of mourning loss, this is the opening declaration of insanity. Dischordant keyboards trill and squeal. Ian mutters as if he is angry. The whole song is faster, as if played under the effects of delerium.

The second to the last song was a great version of These Days-- the guitars powerchord their way along, and Ian almost displays some joy as he sings "these days" over and over again.... Brilliant!

A great show, but too short. Nine songs. Nine perfect and beautiful songs, and then finished.....


Okay, so i wasn't really at this concert. Actually i was a nine year old living in a small farming town in north central Ohio when Joy Division played this show. But i wish that i could have seen it. Joy Division are one of those rare bands that did so little but did it so well. Perhaps it is because they ended so soon -- they didn't have the time to grow old and complacent and record Bridges To Babylon. Instead, they left but a brief testament of passion and musical brilliance.

I wish that i could have seen them. This disc does a pretty good job of presenting their "sound" to me. It is so clear that i can put my earphones on, close my eyes, and really feel like i was there. This performance captures the energy that the band obviously had in their live performances.

Their records might have spawned the entire "goth" phenomenon, but live, they were obviously a punk band -- loud, fast, furious, and without a care in the world. They poured their souls into this performance. Why -- were they extra angry that day? Or were they so happy that it spilled over into their music and made them play what must have been the show of their lives?

I guess i'll never know. Nor does it really matter, all that matters is that it was a fabulous concert, and this is a really nice recording of it.

This is actually the second "bootleg" of Joy Division that Factory Records has released in the past few years. The first disc, Preston shows a brilliant band being confronted by poor sound in a crappy venue. There they are weary with frustration. Here, the venue was great, and due to a radio broadcast thankfully preserved these long years, we have a crystalline soundboard recording of the show.

In order to fill up the CD, there are six tracks taken from a later performance in Holland. That recording is not so clear. In fact, it sounds as if taken from a high generation cassette recording. The sound is a little on the tinny side, and there is some tape hiss that just could not be removed. The overall effect of this second recording is that Joy Division are made to sound like a heavy metal band.

That's a shame, because that Holland show sounded brilliant. The second track is a long, drawn out version of Atrocity Exhibition. The tinny tape hiss-filled recording on the guitars reminds me of the time that i saw The Fire Show in concert -- there is that level of paranoia present in the music. Of course, that has always been Joy Division's creepiest song in my opinion. I mean look at the name, and then consider that Ian Curtis repeats "this is the way we step inside" over and over in the song. Ewww....

But Joy Division provide the necessary catharsis with the see-sawing guitars and plodding rhythm of Digital. It is a great moment of energy, and it infects the crowd. In the break before Joy Division jump into Leaders Of Men, you hear the crowd chanting and screaming. It sounds like people were having a blast!

I think it's great that Factory Records have given us this snapshot of a wonderful band playing two good shows. Malimus, on the other hand finds it creepy. "It's just like Tupac," he said, when i explained what this CD was. I guess so. I mean, on the one hand it's awesome to have these recordings. On the other hand, it does seem like capitalizing on the death of Ian Curtis. Sure, he's been dead a long time now, but would these recordings, however brilliant, have been released now if he were a doddering and bitter old fool? I dunno.

Another thing that struck me while listening to this CD: it is fairly obvious that Joy Division were an influence on one of my current favorites, The Dismemeberment Plan. The way that keyboards are used, especialy the high pitched "laser shot" sounds on Love Will Tear Us Apart seems very like the off-key keyboard sounds that The Plan use to great effect in their live shows.

On the whole, i heartily endorse this CD. It's a good starting point for people unfamiliar Joy Division. And for true fans, these recordings are a must.

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