I had the pleasure to see Justice in 2012 on part of their world tour in support of their amazing 2011 album, Audio, Video, Disco. Over the years, I've only been to a handful of electronic music shows (Crystal Castles, Girl Talk, Skrillex), and they all had one thing in common; their inability to deviate from the original songs in a substantial way. That's not to say that these shows were terrible (some were), but they lacked the raw intrigue that happens in most live performances. Justice is different. From the opening minutes of their performance, one gets the feeling that really anything goes. Songs that were originally 3 minutes get transformed into massive 8 minute experiments, and almost every track gets deconstructed down to its most basic elements. Access All Arenas is a live recording from a show on Justice's 2012 tour, and it manages to capture most of the chaotic nature of their performances, while missing a few key elements.
By far, the most impressive aspect of a Justice show is the music. The duo completely changes the structure of all of their songs in order to make the set one large musical composition, rather than a series of separate tracks. When listening to this album, it's not uncommon to hear the key moments of a song sneaking into another. The lyrics from "DVNO" find their way into "Horsepower" despite the fact that the former song never actually appears in earnest on the album. Likewise, the main progression of "Phantom" appears in "Helix" probably a minute before they even begin the actual song. This approach provides the listener with a feeling of anticipation that you'd be pressed to find anywhere else. When listening to album, I found myself constantly wondering "What's going to happen next?"
It is exciting to hear how some of these songs blend together, as well. Who would have thought that the chorus of "Civilization" would work so well in "Phantom," or that the verse of "On'n'On" would fit perfectly with the chords of "Waters of Nazareth?" These small but significant touches make listening to Access All Arenas a wholly enjoyable experience for any Justice fan, and breathes new energy into songs that may have gotten stale at this point.
Of course, this is a live album, so there is a persistent crowd noise that may get in the way of a person who just wanted to hear a great Justice remix album. Disappointingly, Access All Arenas does not come with a companion DVD as their last live release did, and as a result, only half of what makes a Justice show so great is on display. There are times on the album, like during the powerful synth growl on "Horsepower," where you can hear the crowd erupt. Part of that is because it sounds amazing, but the other half is because the visual and lighting effects that are happening at that moment are astounding! For as chaotic as the music sounds, a Justice concert is a very coordinated audio/visual experience, complete with large, moving set pieces and unbelievable lighting effects. Not being able to experience this again and again, may lessen the value of this album to many fans.
Despite that admittedly nit-picky gripe, Access All Arenas is still a stellar live album, and one that any Justice fan will pick up and immediately enjoy. I found myself smiling throughout my first listen. I loved hearing how the back-to-back "Stress" and "Waters of Nazareth" played out in such unexpected ways! I even got chills as I reflected on my personal experience at their show, and I can't help but think that others will have the same response. For those less fortunate than I, Access All Arenas is the next best thing to seeing Justice live, and will do nothing if not get you excited for the next time these guys go on tour.