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The Servant
Grand National, First Part

Olympia Hall, April 11th, 2005

version française - version anglaise
Last night, at the Olympia Hall, we were lucky enough to witness a true rebirth of British Pop music; the British scene had been longing for this new inspiration, fresh and talented, and that for a long time.
Grand National

The first part of the venue features Grand National. The band is usually only represented by its two founders, Londonian DJs Ruppert Lydden (voice), and Lawrence "La" Rudd (guitar and voice), but that night, they have come with three musicians, all gifted with a strong personality. The five of them start with a cocktail that might sound a little too familiar: the inspirations of late 80s pop groups is indeed very present (New Order, the Happy Mondays). And yet… it is a daring challenge to "recycle" these old sounds we all enjoy so much, but the group succeeds in this with undeniable talent (this is probably because when bearing the name of the greatest horse race in the United Kingdom, winning is a second nature!). Grand National immediately comes to the heart of the matter, and as the first tunes start, everyone in the audience is taken with a strong, irrepressible desire to dance; this is particularly true on Peanut Dreams : starting with a bass and light drums, to which a little strum of guitar is gradually added, and then a second guitar, which doubles the bass, this authentic "DJ" piece, very simple and linear, yet acquires a Jairoquaï-like electro-funky power, also sprinkled with pop style voices.

Before the audience has even had time to catch their breath, the band goes on with Drink to moving on, their most famous song, a melody tinged with melancholy, both dreamy and obsessive, but with a sunny note added by the guitar theme : a potential hit!! La's punctual voice interventions, with a tonality reminding of Sting, add another touch of poetry to the song. Furthermore, Grand National has not forgotten the times when they sung covers of Police in the pubs of West London or Brighton. They could just not possibly skip playing Walking on the Moon, and they do so with great talent and creativity, and a very original vocal composition: the audience appreciates.
After this moment of dreaming, back to the serious stuff, and the energetic Playing in the distance. The heavy bass melodies, backed up by the dry and incisive rhythm of the guitar, and by the rough voice, produce an immediate effect on the audience, who start jumping as one man (well…, that is, in the front rows, as one woman ! :-)). We also get to listen to more reggae style pieces, like Boner, which makes the atmosphere of the concert even more festive. In all these pieces, instruments and voices are perfectly balanced and harmonious, each underlining the others. As for the singer, he has a great charisma, and really knows how to deal with the public: with his funny look, coloured tie, and comments in French, he easily connects with the audience. In short, they have all it takes, and to us, "small band will become Grand [Inter] National"!

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The Servant

After a short pause, The Servant arrives on stage. The audience, already pretty excited by Grand National, comes literally delirious as soon as the singer, Dan Black, appears. Of course, before his -still very relative- glory on the pop-rock scene, handsome Dan was already familiar with flash lights: he was a model for Vogue magazine. But his true world is not that of spangles and glamour: life was not always that easy. Cell is a good introduction to this Olympia Hall concert, which will most certainly give the stamp of success to the band (before moving on to even bigger concert halls!). It's all click when the mortgage clears, all our fears will disappear : after ten years of hardships on the verge of London's "underground" circles, the band can be reassured, the public's enthusiasm speaks for itself. From one song to the other, the variety of issues tackled immerses us deep into the intimate, a bit neurotic world of the singer, typical of "Bedroom pop". His vision on some aspects of modern society, such as the difficulty to communicate between individuals (Cells, I Can walk in your mind), money becoming a substitute for religion as a universal way of life (Jesus says), or the absurd life of lower social classes (Body), is of surprising maturity. Not only are the topics original, but also they are handled with a great deal of poetry.

The composition of the pieces is no less astonishing: The Servant transgresses all the rules and does not follow any preset recipe. They go from pretty, soft rhythm ballads, to much darker rock compositions, which can even be disturbing and morbid (i.e. Devil; indeed, when listening carefully to the lyrics, one can think Dan really has a problem!!). There are many discontinuances, changes of tone, and the listener using his usual musical logic is both completely lost, and completely charmed, so fruitful are the talent and creativity of the band!

In I can walk in your mind, with its sixties-like sound, you feel like grabbing your neighbour's hand and going dancing in the fields; the catchy melody might seem too smooth, if you don't pay attention, once again, to the strange lyrics, in total shift with the melody. In Liquefy, light spots sweep across the hall, fitting perfectly with the song: sparkling blue reflections turn the Olympia hall into a sea of spectators, bathing in the happiness of this romantic "teenager" ballad. In Jack The Ripper, a song from the new album, rock'n roll, jerky and powerful, Dan Black, possessed, wanders from one end of the stage to the other, with a completely anarchic choreography; then he comes closer to the front rows, and starts jumping with a sadistic expression on his face….Arghhhh…it gives us the shivers! But where we least expected them to do so, The Servant just literally takes our breath away, with Not Scared, Terrified, a song played "unplugged", with a 12 strings Martin. Emotion is palpable in the air; the audience stops breathing and concentrates on this great moment of communion. We have to wait for the recalls before the band finally plays its hit piece Orchestra. Its strange and poetic lyrics, together with the dream-like quality of the melody, transports us into another world, somewhat autistic, but so comfortable…

As for the way Dan Black is moving on stage, he does so perfectly, with true acting talent : at turns flirty and then dramatic when singing the darker songs, he occupies space with remarkable easiness, and animates the entire evening in French, with his light but delicious British accent. He creates a wonderful complicity with the public, with small jokes at every occasion (for instance, when a very enthusiastic fan screams "Dan!!" he immediately answers back "err… Françoise?!!"). And the sincerity of the band cannot be doubted when they come back after the second recall saying "We don't want to stop!" (I saw the play list and the last song was truly not planned!).

Impressions from the audience coming out of the Olympia hall that night? They are unanimous:
"Imposing, impressive, the new song is great"
"The vibrations of the floor were so strong we had to follow the general movement!"
"Great; on stage they do not cheat; they give the best they have".
"What a star. He should only do some muscle training…" (Note: this is solely this charming young lady's opinion, we decline any responsibility!!).
"It was too short, went by too fast! All the songs are beautiful; the folk-style ballad just knocked me out!".
"ENORMOUS. You know, I play the guitar, and I can tell you the guitarist really rocks!"
"This Dan Black is a genius; the guitarist is just extraordinary; the song he played with a 12 string Martin... a slice of heaven: I get back home, and I start learning how to play it!!"

After so many praises, we can only wish them one thing: to go far, and above all, not to change! We love you just the way you are!

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Christine Hamdi et Aurélie Partouche