Access All Arenas, a vivid and vivacious capture of Justice's 2012 Arena of Nîmes show, proves once and for all that the progression that occurred between Cross and Audio, Video, Disco hadn't changed them as a band. It, in fact, made them better.
Audio, Video, Disco, Justice's sophomore LP, was released in 2011 to a public that wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Undoubtedly, many were hoping for something like a Cross 2.0, and not without good reason. When it dropped in 2007, Cross was a revelation, and proof for many that house music, despite what Daft Punk's Human After All may have indicated two years prior, was not only alive and well but fully revitalized. The diversity on that LP, spanning the clipped disco of "Newjack" to the horror soundtrack pulsating of "Stress", is still remarkable to this day; few debuts in the '00s are as audacious or just all-around fun as Cross. This explains the scattered reactions to the excellent AVD, an album that—while not completely devoid of what made its predecessor so great—moved Justice more into the realm of classic rock and even old-school prog. The word "more" in that last sentence is important; while Cross raised a lot of hullaballoo over its take on house and its spin-off genres, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay carried themselves not as many of their contemporaneous DJs do. The leather jackets they're often seen sporting are just the surface of a rock star persona they tout with swagger and ease. Yet for all the appeal people found in this look, they clearly wanted it just to extend to the leather jackets and not to the music itself. Upon hearing the AC/DC guitar on "Newlands" and the unsubtle Led Zeppelin homage "On'N'On," heads were simultaneously turned and scratched. These were the same guys who made Cross, right?
While the commonalities between Cross and AVD are much more than critics and fans gave it credit for, any doubters will be put in their place by Access All Arenas, a live recording of Justice's Arena of Nîmes show, which took place on July 19, 2012. At first, this may appear to be an unnecessary release; not only is this duo only two albums into their career, but there's already a live recording to its name, 2008's concert film/tour documentary A Cross the Universe. The progression that took place between the debut and AVD is distinct enough that to someone who hasn't had the pleasure of seeing Justice live is likely to wonder how these sets of songs pair up. The answer, fortunately, is that in Justice's case, progression doesn't mean abandonment of prior excellence. Progress, in fact, has made the duo all the better.
If AAA is taken as a quality capture of Augé and Rosnay's live method, then it could well be the case that AVD is more indicative of their true sound than Cross. Of course, this is a fact common of live experiences in general: if a band makes an album distinct in style from anything it had previously done, the change in sonic is going to influence how the old stuff is played. On this LP, it's clear that regardless of how well Justice excel at house, EDM, or any other like electronic genre, at its core, it's a rock and roll band. This fact extends even to the most dancefloor-heavy of the duo's work, as in the case with "Waters of Nazareth", which in this iteration takes on a militaristic heavy metal tone. AAA is eminently danceable, yes, but it's defined primarily by its power chords, booming riffs, and crowd chants—all things more likely to bring out headbanging and misplaced devil horns rather than shuffling feet. Fortunately, since this is Justice, they span both of those concertgoing experiences. AAA takes the boundaries between the stadium and the club and utterly demolishes them.
Justice's live methodology is similar to that of a rock concert, though it still borrows from electronic music heavily in one way. Though there are 14 numerically divided tracks on this record, the songs themselves aren't played as individual pieces, but rather as continuous movements in a career-spanning perpetual track. The music here is incredibly well sequenced; save for a few breather gaps, each song bleeds into the next. Some of these transitions are either unnecessary or awkward—see the inclusion of the "DVNO" vocal before the AVD highlight "Horsepower"—but on the whole they make this as nonstop as a party could be. If the encore wasn't so distinctly demarcated from the main set list, this could probably looped in a continuous circle and it'd still be just as entertaining. It helps that these aren't just pre-programmed rehashings of these tracks; like any good band (rock or otherwise), Justice actually does its best to play the music, rather than leaning on Ableton or some other digital interface to spit out slightly modified stems. For Augé and Rosnay, that their music is largely electronic is no excuse for complacency. On the contrary, the ability to create remixes with relative ease clearly inspires the duo to take their studio work into different realms in a live setting. “Canon,” a good-but-not-great cut from AVD, is one of the standouts on AAA for this very reason. In its initial version, it’s mostly a bundle of arpeggios; live, it becomes a doom metal stomp. Experiments like these can be found scattered throughout all of the setlist; parts of songs will be moved around, cut out, or replaced, and in a few cases remixes from other artists will be incorporated. This doesn't sound like much on paper, but when compiled into a concert as overall excellent as this one, the effect is brilliant. Even on "On'N'On," the first of the two encores, where the only real difference is that the first part of the song is played more quietly, it feels like a wholly new track.
As the years go on and Justice continues to put out music, hopefully AVD will be recognized as the genius classic rock revival in disguise LP that it is. But, more importantly, it should become increasingly clear that Justice never abandoned what it had established with Cross. A synth melody may be traded for a guitar riff, and the comparisons to Daft Punk may hold less and less. In the end, that's the beauty of Justice: there's no need to be afraid to rock out in the club—nor, of course, should rockers fear four-to-the-floor.