Tuesday 8 November 2022

General Elektriks, merci infiniment!

In 2004 I went over to Cimiez Gardens, City of Nice, to the Festival de Jazz. You can't do that now, it's not held there anymore. But that night I heard a band that for me redefined the word funk. I remember being knocked out by their energy, their stamina and their tidy clothes. That band was France's now legendary General Elektriks. 18 years and 5 albums later General Elektriks is still going strong. So when I heard that the Elektriks was promoting a new album called Party Like A Human and was planning to perform in Monaco, well, needless to say I jumped at the chance to write the blog post that you're about to read. I wanted to capture the sights and sounds of a November Sunday night. (1)

Twice this year my plans to see General Elektriks were scuppered. A Monaco gig scheduled in April was canceled, and I wasn't around in July when the band played Vence's Nuits du Sud. So I had to be there, Sunday 6 November. Tickets were available on the door at 19:30, an hour before the scheduled start; 22 euros each, cash only.

Fontvieille is pretty dead at that time on a Sunday, but Espace Léo Ferré has a bar selling beer and bottles of water. There's no audience seating, just a few tall bar tables for leaning against and a couple of larger, round tables with chairs. Me and the Other Half take a seat and scan the room. The stage is lit by a single spot, illuminating a fabulous, battered red Hohner Clavinet C. Blue light casts an unworldly glow over the rest of the hall.

At 20:20 the crew is milling around and music fans are chatting. It's obvious we're not working to Anglo-Saxon time and the gig won't start before 21:00. When it does, it's all very casual. There's no grand announcement welcoming the brilliant, amazing General Elektriks, and no surge of bodies towards the front. Nevertheless, we hoot and shout and applaud as the band takes to the stage, dressed in white as usual. Hervé RV Salters wears his red striped tie and has a couple of pens in his shirt pocket. He looks like a trendy chemistry teacher.

I get off my arse and stride to a space right at the front with an unimpeded view of RV who jumps about like a jack-in-a-box but never seems out of breath. He invites us to "sautez avec nous" and I try, honestly I do, but fail miserably. My moves are more in line with bassist Jessie Chaton, whose feet remain firmly on the stage, sliding from side to side. At one break he gives his affro a quick spruce up. I'm on the far side of the stage from guitarist Eric Starczan, but don't need to see him to recognize his virtuosity. Percussionists Toma Milteau and Guillaume Lantonnet, like most drummers, are at the back, hidden by their equipment, but essential to the beat. I feel it in the floor and in my chest.

I'm not going to give you the running order. We're a couple of tunes in before I remember I'm going to blog about the gig. There's always a choice to be made between recording details and just having a bloody good time, and I choose the latter.

The new album's eponymous track, Party Like a Human is played early on. It's catchy, a floor-filler, and has a line that everyone can sing along to. Watching RV's footwork I'm thinking he'd do a fine Charleston on Strictly (Danse avec les stars in France).

Seeker is another track from the current opus. It includes the line "Doin' what you do, you just don't care", which nicely reflects how RV has defined the album; "Faire face à notre vide existentiel tout en dansant" (facing our existential emptiness while dancing). The music isn't just funky, it's rocky too.

Similarly, Take Back the Instant (Good City for Dreamers album, 2009). It starts with a driving keyboard riff and ends with a minute's worth of guitar solo that no rock fan could resist playing along to on air guitar. Starczan's final flourish is to run his fret board across the mic stand. Phew!

My last choice is Angle Boogie (To Be A Stranger album, 2016) which is irresistibly boppy. The opening motif is deliciously distorted by the keyboard and so catchy that it's still a worm in my ear two three days later.

We reach the end of the set and RV urges us to clap and cheer for the band. We peak too early and Chaton has to run to the front to raise some noise for RV, the man behind the music. It's not quite over tho'. We know and they know that they're never gonna get out without playing Tu M'Intrigues. A voice shouts "Tu m'in..." and soon we're all chanting "Tu m'in... Tu m'in... Tu m'in..." The crowd roars as RV and the band return for one last track, the one that everyone knows, the one that amazes me just as much now as it did all those years ago at the 2004 Nice Jazz Festival.

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