Praise for the Take Away Shows By John Peabody, Sweet Talk’s West Coast Correspondent (contact at www.johnpeabody.com)
Luke Pritchard of the Kooks starts strumming his guitar and singing the band’s “Ooh la”. He and guitarist Hugh Harris stroll up a tight street in Paris. They keep playing as a car drives by before encountering a gaggle of teenage girls on the sidewalk who, with camera phones aimed, welcome them into a breezeway. The girls scream and sing along with Pritchard, “Ohh la, she was such a good girl to me. Ooh la the world just chewed her up, and spat her out.” Vincent Moon, swings the camera behind the musicians, the song ends, Pritchard thanks the impromptu crowd and emerges with a smile spilling off his face. “That’s the most insane thing I’ve ever done,” he says.
This insane rock star moment and many more are courtesy of French filmmaker Vincent Moon. Over the last year he’s made some fifty mini-documentaries of bands playing in unusual scenes for the Take Away Shows project.
Moon’s project is intensely good. It’s required viewing for any music fan with Internet access. Each show is shot off-the-cuff in Moon’s distinct grainy style, usually with Paris as the stage. There’s no shine, no gloss and the unexpected is embraced. He catches musicians distilled to their most natural form - no stages, no amps - just musicians and music, and he usually has just an hour or two to film them.
“I think it’s very important about the project that we have this kind of time limit,” he says. “Which is kind of okay let’s do this one shot, we don’t have a choice. I don’t like to have a choice.”
The concept is so simple, it’s surprising that it hasn’t been done before. Moon, whose given name is Mathieu Saura, says the idea, to catch bands playing in unordinary places, came after he and his friend/partner Chryde saw Arcade Fire play in Paris. When the band played part of their concert outside, the crowd circled around and the energy grew to a palpable force. They set out to capture that same intensity.
So instead of getting boring interview tape while bands made brief stops in Paris, they asked bands to play impromptu concerts. They put the shows on La Blogotheque, which is home to the Take Away Shows.
Moon, a photographer as well, says the still camera has inspired his video work. He says sees himself as a documentary filmmaker not a director. But building up some kind of electric moment to catch with his video equipment is crucial to a good show.
“The very, very important part of this project is when I meet the band, when I go and talk to them a little bit about the project. I must give a very energized moment,” he said recently from Paris over Skype. “If I give enough energy, so the band will feel confident about it, they will try. The most important thing is in that human exchange.”
That energy can be difficult to conjure. To put the artists at ease, he offers to preview the videos for them before they go up online. If they don’t like it, it doesn’t go up. So far only one band has taken up this offer.
And sometimes Moon utilizes the moment to challenges bands, like Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear, who ended up doing an a cappella version of the melodic “Knife” while strolling a sidewalk. Some members of the band can hardly hold back their laughter during the shoot. They seem to be surprised at how good they sound.
Other filmmakers have started to contribute to the Take Away Shows, emulating Moon’s grainy technique. “I just want people to go out and people to do the same thing,” says Moon. “That’s all I want. I just want people to copy this.”
To catch these pure musical acts, Moon uses a barebones crew. It’s usually just him and Chryde. They clip a wireless mic to the singer. Chryde holds an ambient mic and Moon films using a basic video recorder with an attached mic. This minimal approach allows them to catch bands casually walking tight streets, or for the Arcade Fire show, stuffed in a freight elevator playing “Neon Bible”.
Since that Arcade Fire Take Away Show things have been crazy for Moon. The website started getting a lot more hits (more than 3000 a day not including YouTube or MySpace views). Labels have been contacting him to do promo work for bands, and even though his videos are usually shot during promo time, he says nothing repulses him more than tainting his work with bad public relations juju.
“I hate to think about it as a promo music thing,” he says. “Of course we use the labels, we use that promo tool to film people. So of course I’m in that kind of weird situation. I just want to be free. We don’t get any money on this. We’re not paid at all.”
“In a way,” he says.” I don’t want to [get paid] because it will kill something. It will make things very difficult.”
It’s art inspiring art and Moon wants to keep it that way. The Take Away Shows are like bootleg tapes, raw recordings that catch life’s, and art’s, natural imperfections. There’s no plastic here, just reflections of musicians playing music, that’s it.