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Everybody Wang Chung tonight: Girl Talk at Skidmore.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Greatest Hits

By Josh Potter

Girl Talk, Prefuse 73

Skidmore College, Sept. 19

There’s something sort of post-heroic about what Greg Gillis (the mash-up avatar Girl Talk) does. At the end of a set that was nearly called off two songs in for rocking that fucking hard, where a stuffed coyote was engulfed by the teeming throngs only to surface some time later entirely, miraculously intact, and where a posse of student-life reps routinely deflected frenzied, half-naked women from mobbing the man’s scrawny physique, Gillis thanked the school for letting him “play a gym, Led Zeppelin-style.” The statement dripped, like most of what Gillis does, with irony, but not the snobby, disaffected kind that is the normal brand of the hipsterati; there was some real gratitude there. While Gillis never actually used a Zeppelin sample that night or even played a single note of his own authorship, he commanded the work of so many cultural heroes on his laptop that he did rock the crowd as hard as Jimmy Page could have, and so elevated the shuffle-jockey to the status of guitar god in his own, weird, information-age sort of way.

If you think a college gymnasium is a strange venue for two world-renowned electronic artists, you’re right. To get there, one must file past campus security, skirt the pool and weight room, descend a flight of stairs, and walk a fantastically long hallway, lined on both sides with lockers. This being the baroque, post-what age where everyone in the know makes carefully scripted parody of themselves, a walk down this passageway brought one shoulder-to-shoulder with characters from their favorite ’80s movies. Amid the sea of tube-tops and slatted neon glasses, there was Molly Ringwald, Debbie Harry, Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, and that blonde girl from The Goonies.

For opener Prefuse 73, the digs were less than ideal. The Barcelona-based beatsmith deals in perplexing, convoluted soundscapes that demand a savvy, focused audience or, frankly, a set of really nice headphones. Accompanied by two knob-tweaking collaborators, Prefuse conjured so many delay-effected atmospherics and polyrhythms that the core groove was often lost in a cloud of glitch. The boomy, half-lit room rendered the beats confounding to the point of inaccessibility, which is too bad, as the artist is a true vanguard and the chance to watch him perform is a rare treat.

By the time Girl Talk took the stage, dressed in a phys-ed ensemble of sweats, tank-top and headband, the crowd was jittering. When “Play Your Part, Pt. 1” dropped with its hyphy beat and “What I Like About You” hook, the crowd was roiling. It’s hard to say just when it all got crazy, as Girl Talk’s tracks are hypertextural hit parades that could pretty much segue nonstop like some Adderall-addled karaoke show, but it was sometime after “Come Sail Away” and before “Tiny Dancer” that the crowd started to storm the stage. At first it seemed gimmicky. One guy dancing in front of a laptop is goofy, but three or four was kind of lame. When the party onstage hit a dozen or so, it all made a new kind of sense, as the divide between the show and the party had been eliminated: Everyone was bumping. But when Gillis disappeared behind the sea of bodies, it began to feel like the only ones who were having a really good time were those who had made it on stage. So more jumped on and then it got scary. So many people had crammed onto the stage that few were even dancing. People clung to each other like molecules in an overfilled glass of water. Speaker columns teetered. The house lights came up, but the party raged on. Without an onstage focal point, swarm mentality prevailed. It was like a house party where the cops have arrived but can’t find the plug for the boombox.

Finally, Gillis stopped the music. Both agitator and voice of reason, he told the crowd the show wouldn’t go on until the stage was clear. In a display of anarchism as respectful as it was reckless, the stage was soon clear, the signal was sent, and Girl Talk dropped a beat so thunderous that the speakers started to clip. For the rest of the night, the shaggy minstrel spliced hit after hit, sampling the Dead, the Band, Regina Spektor and that dirty crunk tune about “my neck, my back” and other unmentionable parts of the anatomy, all the while dancing as hard as anyone in the now-segregated crowd.

Girl Talk, no doubt, faces his share of naysayers, but if what Gillis does can be seen as controversial, it’s not because he challenges copyright law, it’s because he challenges our need for a musical hero; when we’ve got so many at the tip of a finger, why not party with them all?

The World Today

Laurie Anderson

The Egg, Sept. 21

Laurie Anderson brought a band with her this time, on her return visit to the Egg to perform a new work, Homeland. A set of 16 songs, monologues and musical doggerel, Homeland is concerned with our strange and malevolent reality of war and commerce and surveillance and media.

The best-known performance artist in America, Anderson has always played it cool. Even when she’s making sharp political points, she does it in an oblique manner. (The line “It’s a good time for bankers” took on an unexpectedly humorous resonance, though.)

“Callin ’em Up” was intense. “Mambo and Bling” was humorous. “Bad” was mean. Some of the songs were so achingly gorgeous, the audience didn’t interrupt the transitions to applaud. (Unfortunately, Anderson’s vocals were unintelligible on the achingly beautiful numbers.) Best of all was “Expert,” a hilarious, beat-driven song satirizing the plethora of so-called experts our society is burdened with.

Husband Lou Reed joined the band for two songs at the end of the show. The results were funny and musically raucous, with Reed his usual half-uncomfortable, half-angry self.

This is the kind of show that is not planned with a full-band encore in mind; this was not the kind of audience that’s going to yell for “O Superman.” So after a couple of curtain calls in response to the small-but-enthusiastic crowd’s rolling standing ovation, Anderson played a short solo piece on her electric violin.

It was the first time she crossed the rows of candles in front of the stage—an unexpected moment of spontaneity (and unadorned musical beauty).

That’s not a criticism of what went before, however. Homeland was more of a straight musical show than Anderson’s usual multimedia presentations, but it was still a very theatrical show. (The stage smoke thickened and cleared in well-engineered harmony with the lyrics and musical themes.) Between the candles on the stage, the hanging lights, the arrangement of instruments and amps and wires and laptops, there was no way for the band to even move. It wasn’t restrictive; it was more like . . . architecture. Very elegant—but firm—architecture.

—Shawn Stone

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