‘Un tour ensemble’ is the only full-length Jean-Jacques Goldman concert available on home video. Of all the video releases through the years, and there are many, none of the concert material was released in such a standard fashion – most of them were cut together with interviews and/or behind the scenes footage. For me, this DVD was an opportunity to see what kind of show the man could give – unedited, without interruptions, the flow of any show is radically different and can be quite telling.
While JJG’s stagecraft is exemplary, his choice of tracks left me wanting. And not because the songs weren’t great -they were- but because they simply didn’t work as a set list. Some songs were clearly closers (“En passant”, “Veiller tard”) and could have worked as openers, but instead found their way in the middle. Many were juxtaposed and shouldn’t have been (ex: “Tournent les violons” followed by “Ensemble”). This killed any momentum that the show could have had.
Still, I don’t know what it is with Goldman, but he often finds that chink in my armour. I was overwhelmed with emotion on a few of counts, but especially during “Ensemble”, “Je voudrais vous revoir”, “Nos mains” and “Puisque tu pars”. I think that what happens with his lyrics is that I find them extremely relatable, and these particular songs made me think of my current relationship, of some friends I’d recently seen for the first time in years, and of farewells (including one I’ve had to make lately). I also find poetic beauty in some of them: “Nos mains”, in particular, says a lot about the man’s view of the world, of humanity.
For this show, Goldman was in top form. I was first taken aback by his casual stroll up the ramp that divided the concert hall, having expected a more dramatic entrance, but he played with the crowd and his natural charm immediately won me over: he basically told the crowd that their back-up choir was m.i.a. and that they would have to fill in for them – so he proceeded to coach them through some background vocals and commented wryly on the results throughout. It was quite amusing, and this interaction got the whole lot of them involved. That part was exceptional.
The rest of the show had its ups and down, mostly due to the afore-mentioned lack of flow, but also due to a certain corniness that I have referred to before, in the Fredericks Goldman Jones DVD ‘Tours et détours’. I still don’t know what this is a product of (environment, musical influences, era?) but it would have made me groan in any context and I’m sure I’m not alone. Watching these middle-aged men slowly plod their way rhythmically back from the centre of the stadium to the main stage looked lame, even if it probably felt appropriate to the musicians.
There was some hoakiness that worked, however. Towards the end, Goldman indicated to the crowd that they would not be doing any encores. I was surprised, because he’s a pop act and this seems out of character in that realm. And when the credits rolled, I was further astonished to see that the show was not nearly as long as I expected – by a good thirty minutes or so!
But that was a gimmick: the credits stopped rolling just in time for the song “C’est pas vrai”, which is a song about all the trite B.S. we casually tell ourselves and each other all the time. He was actually commenting on the cliché that encores have become: once an indication of how pleased people were with a show, requesting more from the musicians, they’ve now become an expectation, a part of the show. So when an artist yells “goodnight!” everyone knows it’s complete bull.
Personally, I thought that this was slightly clever, and was further impressed when Goldman carried on by introducing his whole band – by giving them the mic. While they all took turns singing a song, churning out a medley of many Goldman favourites as well as a cover, JJG was their back-up musician, stepping out of the spotlight to share it with them. I was really impressed: not only did it show humility from a man of his stature, but it indicated that the band were more like family than just co-workers – they really just enjoyed being on stage together. That’s very cool to see, especially decades into a career together.
The show was short on artifice, but it definitely had its moments, little surprises that I thought were nice touches. For instance, at one point they used a string of tap dancers to provide percussion on one track (and even had the dancers do a repeat performance on the walkway, in the middle of the crowd), and they had a couple dozen people play military drums to the wails of the pseudo-bagpipes in “Je voudrais vous revoir”. They even used a number of instruments I couldn’t have expected, such as medieval instruments (I believe there was a hurdy-gurdy) and a vast range of wind instruments.
But the finale was as unexpected as it was bizarre. For “Envole-moi”, the whole front of the stage flipped forward, quite literally carrying some of the musicians over the crowd below them. I had seen a picture of this on the cover of the companion double CD, but always thought it was some sort of visual trick. Nope: they actually braced themselves somehow during the performance (I didn’t notice how, and it looked like quite an effortless thing for the band to do) and had the stage go up to approximately a 45 degree angle. That was neat and dorky at once.
Having said that, I tend to be forgiving because I suspect that this kind of concert gimmick exists because Goldman is a pop poet with the heart of a rocker. After all, even though he always gravitated towards writing pop music, he started out in a prog-rock band and, in his solo career, has surrounded himself with extremely versatile musicians whose roots are in rock music. Furthermore, I always tell myself that there may be a cultural divide that I can’t broach, being North American.
Despite their ambitions, however, the pop music influence is forever prominent throughout the show. Goldman’s songs tend to be synth-heavy because he composes on one and then translates his music to various other instruments for recording purposes. Thus, his songs have a strong keyboard backing, and thus his music has a flavour that harks back to the ’80s to early ’90s. Personally, I would love to see the synths replaced by a real piano and strings – this would give his music a more solid footing and a maturity to match the compositions and his lyrics.
Still, this clearly doesn’t distance him from his fans. Granted, they were mostly all average-looking middle-class people (there wasn’t one “cool” person in the house, I figure – although the crowd was hardly as uncool as in the Santana ‘Sacred Fire: Live in Mexico’ DVD! ), so they are likely more receptive to this style than others would be, but it was amazing to see just how involved and moved many of them were. JJG really does touch people. It’s not just me.
Anyway, despite its flaws I’d call this concert a success. It showed Jean-Jacques Goldman, the musician, at his best, the showman in good form, and the man himself in great spirits, able to connect with concertgoers with humour and class. And, really, when you think about it, that’s the most important part of the show.