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David Lynch guitar
David LynchPhotography Dean Hurley

When David Lynch played his first (and last) rock concert

The filmmaker often dabbles in music, but he rarely plays live – and a one-off concert in Paris in 2002 may explain why

Although David Lynch is primarily known as a director, he’s always been active in mediums outside of cinema. Last year’s The Art Life documentary looked at his visual arts background, while his enthusiasm for the internet saw him debut the 121-part documentary series Interview Project on his website in the late 2000s. Music is where he’s made the most mark outside of filmmaking. He notably branched out into decayed Americana songwriting with the solo albums Crazy Clown Time and The Big Dream in 2011 and 2013 respectively, but in the past he’s done everything from staging avant-garde musicals with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern to producing torch songs with Julee Cruise.

Lynch has never taken his musical ideas on the road, and there’s a reason for that. “Take the word ‘terrify’ and then make every letter as big as Mt. Rushmore, and you’ll have a good idea how I feel (about performing live),” Lynch told Entertainment Weekly in 2012. That fear probably developed in 2002, when he played a one-off concert in Paris.

Between 1998 and 2000, Lynch worked with the engineer John Neff on BLUE BOB, a project they said was inspired by “the pounding machinery of the smokestack industry and the raw amplified birth of rock and roll”. Their debut album BlueBOB (stylised as ƎU⅃ᗺᗷOᗷ on the record sleeve) was released in 2001 through Lynch’s own record label Absurda and the independent Soulitude Records and made available on Lynch’s website. Although it received a mixed response from critics, there was enough interest in the European territories it came out to justify a live performance.

The problem, as fansite Welcome to Twin Peaks wrote, is that they didn’t have a band. Lynch and Neff brought in four musicians on short notice and quickly worked out how to translate their studio project to the stage. On November 11, 2002, the group took to Paris’s Olympia Theatre, where they shared a bill with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, for the first – and only – BLUE BOB concert. Lynch was understandably terrified about playing guitar, an instrument he’d only picked up a few years earlier, to thousands of people. “That was something I didn’t imagine,” he told Yaron Gat, a fan from the forum who’d travelled from Israel for the show, in an interview the next day. “I imagine a lot of things, but not that.”

“He was real nervous about playing live, and I told him that there’s a roar that occurs right when you’re announced, right when people realise you’re about to go on,” John Neff said in a later interview. “And I said, ‘That roar is one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you’ll ever have.’ And sure enough, when the girls walked out with the BLUE BOB signs in front of the audience, it was just like a train coming down the tracks. It was a huge roar.”

Lynch himself did seem to have that rush, as he explained after the show: “It was a traumatic thrill… It was torment, and since I heard we were committed to do it, it’s been a torment. Then suddenly it was over, and it was beautiful when it was over! It was so beautiful I can’t tell you… The fun was a nine and the torment, song by song, fell to zero.”

In 2016, Welcome to Twin Peaks reported that Mary Hutter was making a documentary, BLUE BOB in Paris, about the show, though trailers for it have mostly been scrubbed from the internet. “We were supposed to play more shows, and even got a tour opening offer from The Rolling Stones, but Dave did not like playing in front of an audience,” Neff later wrote. “Ah well.”

Despite his nerves, Lynch has taken to the stage once or twice since the BLUE BOB concert, but it’s been in a very different form. In 2007 he released Polish Night Music, an experimental album recorded with Polish-American composer Marek Zebrowski (and, incidentally, engineered by John Neff), and to promote it the two performed together at Paris’s Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain as part of an exhibition of Lynch’s artwork; they reunited four years later for a performance at the University of Southern California, but both shows were improvised, with Lynch making sounds on a Korg synthesiser rather than playing his own songs on guitar.

But otherwise the idea of Lynch performing live, to paraphrase the filmmaker himself, is as dead as a doornail. All that remains from BLUE BOB’s show is some punishingly brief fan footage.