Live Review: Giorgio Moroder’s The Celebration of the 80’s Tour (Le Grand Rex, Paris)
How do you describe the privilege of being able to see music royalty live? Forever intertwined with the very history of electronica, the career of Italian DJ, producer, and Synth Master extraordinaire Giorgio Moroder is famously narrated by the Father of Disco himself on ‘Giorgio by Moroder’, his contribution to Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories: a fascination with the sounds of “the past, of the present, and the future” led him to further explore the synthesiser, particularly its seemingly infinite layering possibilities when synchronised with the aid of a click, eventually composing what is arguably the first dance track ever made virtually without the use of acoustic instruments — Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ is often mentioned as the definite turning point in electronic dance music, unleashing a revolution that is still taking place today.
But Moroder’s Magic Touch isn’t exclusive to disco and its immediate relatives; the further you explore his catalogue, the more you become overwhelmed by his ability to craft different types of ambiences and soundscapes, starting from a seemingly cliché Pop hook and subsequently building it into a powerful sonic monster. Moroder is the ultimate sorcerer, the almighty magician whose immaterial empire will persevere way after other seemingly indestructible empires (like rock’n’roll) have perished.
Moroder’s love affair with France is a very public one, an on-again-off-again liaison spanning over several decades whose most direct offspring is what is commonly known as French Touch: the French take on electronica is a peculiar one, filled with addictive Pop tunes perpetually menacing to do the crossover from “genius” to “tacky”, and Moroder’s pioneering approach rings as the indisputable original example of the mastery it takes to maintain that tight rope balance.
With this in mind, it felt somehow strange that his Paris show wasn’t sold-out — even if the challenge was to fill the legendary Grand Rex, whose tickets are by no means cheap; but as a couple of fancy old ladies sitting next to me casually mentioned in passing conversation, his show fell right in the middle of Cannes’ week (I heard them saying they were heading South themselves the following morning), so the random empty seat here and there made a little more sense.
With the huge amount of hits Moroder brought for this tour of a lifetime (his first live tour ever) and the incredible set-up both in terms of musicians and video projections, the show was bound to be either an unforgettable treat or a sad, uncomfortable revival. Fortunately, it was the former. Kicking off with the ‘Theme For Midnight Express’ followed by Moroder’s 1969 single ‘Looky Looky’, a tight troupe of musicians promptly assured the audience that there would be no cause for discomfort or disappointments; and if one can argue that the four singers on duty seemed overly preoccupied with emulating the original performers (they were replacing heavyweights such as Donna Summer, Irene Cara, Philip Oakey, and Debbie Harry after all), it’s also true that they were doing it so their take on Moroder’s classics was as respectful as possible.
As it is customary in celebrations of the kind, Moroder talked a bit between each number, explaining the background of a song (‘Love To Love You Baby’), reminiscing about winning an Academy Award (‘Take My Breath Away’), or even going full production geek on us by deconstructing the different layers that form ‘I Feel Love’. His catalogue is so incredibly vast and diverse (near the end he jokingly said he could play it in full but we’d be sitting there until the following Tuesday at least) you are sometimes unaware of its extent — for example, a lady sitting next to me was visibly surprised to discover that ‘Neverending Story’ was a Moroder tune. And even though the tour is called The Celebration of the 80s, he nevertheless extended the musical journey to the 21st century, revisiting his song for Kylie Minogue ‘Right Here Right Now’ and obviously Daft Punk’s ‘Giorgio By Moroder’, the very mentioning of the name “Daft Punk” triggering such an ovation you’d think Thomas and Guy-Man were present — they’re the Patron Saints of France, after all.
The only numbers featuring recorded vocals were what Moroder referred to as “an homage to two friends that are no longer with us”: ‘Cat People’ saw the band synching to Bowie’s original vocals in what the most distracted might have thought to be a mere recording of the track, while ‘MacArthur Park’ was played over a video and vocal track of Queen Donna Summer herself. Two quick encores came under the shape of ‘Hot Stuff’ and Blondie’s ‘Call Me’, Moroder’s contribution to the American Gigolo soundtrack.
The Celebration of the 80s tour is very possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the geniality of Giorgio Moroder as a two-hour journey through some of the biggest highlights of his career, the four-decade distancing contributing to our realisation of the fundamental role he played within electronica in particular and pop music in general. Halfway through the show as the audience started to get up to dance I noticed a (very) pregnant lady sitting right behind me; I smiled as I realised that a brand new generation of Giorgio Moroder fans is perpetually in the making, eventually coming of age in a dance floor somewhere to the sound of a top-ten Pop hit whose chorus is probably sampled from one of his songs.
Originally published at thefourohfive.com in May 2019