The Parc de la Villette is the largest landscaped park in Paris. Designed by Bernard Tschumi, it shows his continuing interest in the color red (I got a tour of his under-construction performance center in Bordeaux from his right-hand woman, and there was lots of red again). I have to say, I really do not like his work when it’s a single building (think: the incongruous BLUE Building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side), but I think the design for the Parc de la Villette is great. I love the unexpected nature of the red pavilions all over the park–and to find out that the placement of these pavilions is actually based on a grid–amazing! On Tchumi’s website, he discusses the pavilions as “a system of dispersed “points”–the red enameled steel folies that support different cultural and leisure activities–is superimposed on a system of lines that emphasizes movement through the park.”
La Zenith: I went to see one of my favorite bands, The National, open for Pavement at La Zenith in May. The Zenith is a good mid-sized venue, nothing incredible architecturally and squeaky clean inside. The audience was disappointingly well-behaved (no moshing or apparent drunkenness) and the space really looked brand spanking new even though it opened in 1984. People did bring baguettes though, which I thought was quite adorable and French.
The National at La Zenith
Once some initial sound issues were rectified, The National’s performance of Squalor Victoria may be one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. On the album, Matt Berninger’s voice is always measured and consistent. Live, it’s emotional, heart wrenching and he’s not afraid to scream and let loose on stage. I was distinctly uncool when Pavement was cool, so I was a bit underwhelmed by this comeback performance, but I was informed later that I just didn’t understand, and that the band is bad and knows it, which makes them cool. I’ve had their album for years and I would like to put forth that it was the horrendously loud sound and lack of sonic separation that took away from the show.
Grande Halle: The next night, I went to an electro festival called We Love Sonique (featuring the wildly anticipated Plastikman aka Richie Hawtin) at the Grande Halle. This iron exhibition hall is the only building in the park that was built in the nineteenth century. According to magazine Café Babel, “The hall was used as a cattle market until the seventies and could house 5,000 animals. The market and abattoirs for the whole of Paris were based here for several hundred years. The arrival of modern cooling systems meant that the abattoirs were no longer needed to transport the live animals into the city – the last ox was slaughtered in La Villette in 1974.” The space was perfect for the electro party and when I was not in the middle of the throng on the floor, I snapped some pictures from above and observed the mass of party-goers waiting and reaching out for the Messiah, aka Plastikman of M-nus Records in Berlin.
La Trabendo: I saw Fanfarlo and (unfortunately) the Temper Trap at La Trabendo. This smaller venue is tucked behind a bunch of trees and it’s kind of like finding treasure when you get to the entrance after walking along the long elevated walkways. The interior is much more interesting than La Zenith, with no seats and multiple levels–like a modern wooden amphitheater. The show space is sort of a half hexagon, with walkways leading towards a large bar area. The smaller venue size allows one to also stand to the side of stage right, essentially hearing the sound from the stage monitors (which in the case of Fanfarlo, gives a better quality acoustic guitar sound than the speakers). You also get to see one of the sound guys work his magic. For both shows, the audience was also pretty tame. Moshing did occur at La Cigale for The Naà¯ve New Beaters the same night as the National/Pavement concert, so I still have faith in Parisians to get rowdy. Fanfarlo was just adorable and really strong live. In the words of my bandmate Grant, who first saw them in New York City for the Northside Festival, “I was not prepared for how good Fanfarlo was.” On the other hand, the Temper Trap was like Celine Dion trapped in the body of an Asian wedding singer. Plus some effects from Blue Man Group. I think I had conceived their music to be an ironic take on the 80s, but it’s”¦literal. But I know they’re popular, so you can take my unqualified review as that of a Brooklyn “hipster” musician who secretly lives in Manhattan and Paris…
Regardless, the park is fun and there are summertime outdoor movie screenings!
Parc de la Villette
Metro: M7 to Porte de la Vilette, Corentin Cariou or M5 to Porte de Pantin
Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.