If Preston finally provided a live Joy Division experience that was worth the purchase price, Les Bains Douches trumped it and then some. Actually compiled from two differing dates -- the title performance itself, in Paris, and a further show in Amsterdam two months later that had been heavily bootlegged -- Les Bains Douches, with the benefit of clearer sound than Preston, finally presents the experience of live Joy Division as the explosive event it was. There aren't any noticeable technical problems with the performances either, unlike some of the problems noticed on Preston, and with everything running smoothly the foursome simply and totally let go. The band often complained that Martin Hannett's groundbreaking production inevitably quashed the direct force of the group in a live setting, which Les Bains Douches demonstrates in spades, with the space in the songs toned down in favor of commanding an audience. The musicians in particular are who really stand out this time around -- while Curtis' singing is much more audible here than on Preston, it's the direct smack of Morris' drums, the fierce growl of Hook's bass, and especially Sumner's sheer volume mixed with almost-frightening control that dominates both shows. The performances on both "Shadowplay" and "Transmission" in particular are practically definitive, as enthralling as the studio takes are. Both "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "These Days" crop up as well, and if the keyboards by Sumner on the former sound a bit primitive to later ears, the beautiful flow of the song stays perfectly intact. The Amsterdam cuts are equally thrilling, ranging from an extended, fascinating take on "Atrocity Exhibition" to a haunting rendition of "Atmosphere." Other performances worthy of note include strong takes on "New Dawn Fades" and "Dead Souls."
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett