PARIS — “Didier–Wampas–est–le –roi” (Didier Wampas is the king) echoes throughout L’Alhambra Music Hall. The chanting crowd mostly includes 16- to 50-year-olds, with a few children accompanying their families. Bulb-studded letters reading “WAMPAS” light up the stage behind the drummer Niko. Frontman Didier Wampas, flanked by guitarists Tony Truant and Phil Almosnino and bassist Jean-Mi Lejoux, plays his own guitar while howling into the microphone. Fans rock, jump and sing along with every word. Some jump on stage and dance before crowd surfing. Others go so far as to touch or even kiss Didier. The bolder fans grab the mic and hold it for Didier. But the most hardcore among them step to the mic and belt out a line or two. For the entire concert, security is completely inconspicuous or nonexistent. Maybe it’s a French thing. Maybe venues here are houses of chaos.
In this fanatically bureaucratic police state, not a chance. Anarchical crowd participation: that’s just how Les Wampas (rock ‘n’) roll.
Les Wampas, a French punk-rock outfit formed in 1983 by Didier Wampas (né Didier Chappedelaine), are known for their frenetic, guitar-driven sound and humorous lyrics as well as their eccentric frontman. They thrive on aggressively dynamic concerts fueled by band-crowd interaction. Forget crowd-surfing, Didier balances above the crowd, legs clutched by anointed fans, and rocks just as hard with his pink Hello Kitty guitar as when he’s on the stage. Implicit understanding between the band and their supporters encourages all crowd involvement. Waves of crowd-surfers run continually. When a kid grabs the mic to sing a chorus, Didier stands to the side and gives the audience a “eh, not bad” look. After all, they can’t be much more off-key than the man himself.
A true punk singer, Didier Wampas desecrates all conventional musical standards with his out-of-tune, often high-pitched, voice. Take Iggy Pop, add the Quiznos’ ‘we love the subs’ spongmonkeys and you don’t quite have Didier. The 48-year-old has more charisma than Iggy, and his shrieking is beautifully melodic, never irritating — soulfully earnest in a way no other punk rocker has ever been able to match.
Les Wampas may be the sole purveyors of unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll left on the planet. Their performance is a unique musical spectacle of inconceivable intensity; where else can you see a middle-aged man stick the mic down his pants and play percussion on his crotch for the entirety of two songs?
Didier is only made more enigmatic by the fact that he has never given up his job as an electrician for the Parisian public transportation system, adamantly opposing the practice of giving grants to performing artists. A real working-class hero — what’s more rock than that?
After levitating up to the second-story mezzanine through sheer awesomeness and a little push from the crowd, Didier has a conversation with an 8-year-old fan and proceeds to perform a few songs. Showcasing the DIY attitude of Les Wampas, he then plays with the “WAMPAS” sign. He lights certain letters in succession, shouting the word fragment he’s spelling. Two encores later, Les Wampas have rocked L’Alhambra well past its threshold. Didier jumps off the stage during the haunting keyboards of the closing number “Kiss.” He walks through the audience to kiss (both cheeks à la française) as many fans as he can before leaving.
One of the common slogans devotees use is, “Les Wampas ont inventé le rock ‘n’ roll” (Les Wampas invented rock ‘n’ roll). Inside L’Alhambra, that actually feels like the truth.