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Solidays review (2): Friendly Fires, Amadou & Mariam, The Virgins

Jun 29

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Monday, June 29, 2009  RssIcon

One of the classic fears of festival-goers is that two of their favourite bands will be on simultaneously. You’ve waited months to see band X and band Y, the only two in the whole line-up you want to see, only for you to roll up to the field and find that they’ve been drawn to play at the same time. Oh, cruel fate! Heartless providence! Bloody festival organisers!

Your correspondent did not have this problem at day two of Solidays. Four acts we wanted to see: all four drawn one after the other on adjoining stages a mere summer stroll apart. Nice one!

The organisers may have done well on that front, but they could surely have found a bigger space than a marquee for Amadou & Mariam. Here’s music crying out for a main stage in the sun and sweltering heat! But that’s a minor quibble: A&M were fantastic. Dressed in metallic silver robes to complement Amadou’s gold spray-painted Stratocaster, they seem an odd couple. His is the dominant personality, with his flashy axe and guitar-playing shapes. By contrast, Mariam hardly moves, as if never told that a famous singer is expected to behave ostentatiously on stage. She stands stock-still while her facial expressions change between smile and sulk. But her clear, piercing voice is just as essential to the group’s sound as Amadou’s blistering guitar work.

An unexpectedly poignant moment comes when Amadou speaks about the festival’s objective – Solidays is an AIDS awareness event and Africa is particularly ravaged by the disease. Without any sentimentality, he sincerely thanks the audience for their solidarity: “Il faut preserver”, he says – we must save, punning on ‘preservatif’, the French word for a condom. In its own way, the pair’s music is just as life-affirming and celebratory.

Ed McFarlane of Friendly Fires (Photo credit: Shirlaine Forrest/BBC)On then to Alela Diane. The essential news to report is that even with drastically short hair she still looks hypnotically gorgeous. And she sang some songs too: those dreamy folk ballads from her two excellent albums, plus a faithful version of Neil Young’s ‘Heart Of Gold’. If she were a French speaker, she may have noticed the rather clever chant that spread through the crowd: “Allez la Diane! Allez la Diane!” Is there no way we can impress her?

The Virgins would understand: their lyrical world is hot with the struggle of trying to win over women way out of one’s league. Musically, they seem to have been weaned on ‘Miss You’ by The Rolling Stones and this is no bad thing. That mixture of funky basslines and skuzzy riffs is a winner. ‘Rich Girls’ has been something of a success here in France, but all their songs have the same hit potential. However, their encore is a cover of ‘Devil Inside’ by INXS. And Girl Talk, on late night here, drops the pounding riff of ‘Need You Tonight’ into his mix: are INXS cool now?

Saturday night draws in with some quintessential Saturday night music: Friendly Fires are magnificent live. While guitarist Edd Gibson whips up a frenzy, singer Ed McFarlane (above right) dances uncontrollably around stage in intense bursts before delivering soaring lines laced with melancholy. As you’d expect, the highlight is their song about the city just outside the gate of this venue: ‘Paris’ is a gorgeous track and all the more wonderful by being heard within sight of the Eiffel Tower.

Walking back to the metro on the way home, looking out over the Seine and the Bois de Boulogne, we remembered why we love this city as much as McFarlane clearly does. Sometimes we forget.

[Part 1, featuring Hockey, Magistrates and The Do, is here. Part 3 will follow.]

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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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