If you think that releasing a live album just one long player into a career might constitute hubris, consider that the average Justice show features a stack of no fewer than 18 Marshall amps.
Lurking between the gigantic towers are two men – Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé – who never fail to look utterly nonchalant when faced with the carnage that tends to surround them.
The DVD portion of A Cross the Universe does its best to shatter the French duo’s guarded on-stage personas. Not unlike Sasha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh creation, Borat, Gaspard and Xavier are portrayed as high on America, beset by difficulties and surrounded by dimwits. Highlights of the hour-long documentary that chronicles their three-week tour of the US include Gaspard getting married to a stranger in Vegas and Xavier breaking a whiskey bottle over an overenthusiastic fan’s head. In amongst this quickly cut mayhem, glimpses of their actual live performances are fleeting.
It’s fortunate, then, that the accompanying 75-minute CD—recorded in March 2008 at the Concourse in San Francisco—captures the full, incendiary energy of a Justice show.
Rather than record directly off the soundboard like, say, Daft Punk’s phenomenal Alive 07, A Cross the Universe is the sound captured from several microphones placed on the stage. This way, the crowd noise is propelled right to the top of the mix; the excited racket coming across as an auxiliary instrument rather than the bedlam of 4,000 highly charged Frisco kids.
This approach might sound poorly equipped to handle the seismic force of Justice’s arena-filling sound, but “We Are Your Friends” still, two years on from its release, serves as a gleeful and giddy call and response. The crowd’s absolutely apeshit response when the first beat of ‘Genesis’ drops, when ‘Phantom’ first rears its head, and when ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ first emerges eight minutes later, only serves to ramp up the excitement and bombast of each track.
Anyone who has caught Justice’s world-class live show will know that Xavier and Gaspard take the fast-paced approach of hurling their slim catalogue against a careful selection of other tracks, like some sort of whacked-out scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider. Considering they’ve only recorded one album, the duo are remarkably adept at rearranging and reinventing the albums’ 12 songs (though “Newjack” and “Valentine” are ditched entirely for A Cross the Universe). It means that “Phantom” is teased out over three versions (labelled 1, 1.5 and 2 here) and 15 minutes. “D.A.N.C.E.” appears twice, first drastically slower than the original, before being accelerated and blasted into a quick two-minute burst of “DNVO”. “We Are Your Friends” is backed by Klaxons’ “Atlantis to Interzone”, while Scenario Rock’s “Skitzo Dancer” clashes up against “Let There Be Light”. Seven minutes of “Stress” might sound a lot and indeed it might have been had Justice not scaled it up, reforming the electronic strings into a fully-fledged orchestra.
Following a power ballad makeover of “We Are Your Friends” and a chopped-up version of Soulwax’s “NY Excuse”, Xavier and Gaspard unveil “Justice X”, a blistering collision of “Tthhee Ppaarrttyy” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”. It’s an ostentatious and extravagant way to sign off, leaving no doubt that A Cross the Universe is a stunning accompaniment to one of the world’s premier live shows.