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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
’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.
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.
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
the first time she crossed the rows of candles in front of
the stage—an unexpected moment of spontaneity (and unadorned
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.