Last week Wifey and I went to see the highly-recommended Girl Talk at Philadelphia's Starlight Ballroom, and I'm still trying to figure out whether or not I enjoyed myself. It seems to be, in a purely practical sense, a perfect example of what happens when someone who should be a niche, specialty act crosses over to a more popular audience, and something gets lost in translation.
The venue is weird--a street away from Chinatown and a weird multi-ethnic hall for quinceaneras and shit at the times when they're not throwing indie rock gigs. The show was all ages, which is definitely a good thing since Wifey and I were (I guess tied for the distinction of) the oldest ones there. I'd say the median age was seventeen, and the attendant fashion decisions kept things interesting. I wish I had gotten some pictures, but let's say there was a lot of neon and gold llame. I see the dude with the Michael Bolton 1994 World Tour shirt.
You forgot "bicycle cap" and "fanny pack."
Starlight Ballroom isn't really set up for an all ages show; they had to rope off the bar, so if you wanted to drink, you had to do it in a very small area without a proper view of the stage becuase you couldn't bring drinks out onto the floor. And alcohol is important to getting White people to dance, so this situation is quite a hit to a Girl Talk show.
Some murky, ear-splitting grunge band from New York opened, and they weren't good enough for me to remember their name. Grand Buffet, who is an awesome Pittsburgh hip-hop duo, was next. They performed a gaggle of their short, high-energy, nerdy songs and warned the crowd, "Don't blame us for the next president: we voted for Chuck E. Cheese, motherfucker."
After a long break to set up (with duct tape?) his stage, Girl Talk's Greg Gillis came out to raucous applause. That's where things went hay-wire. As long as I've known of him, Greg Gillis encourages his crowd to jump on stage as soon as the show starts. And that was punk-rock and spontaneous at shows with two hundred people or whatever, but when you're big enough to have the House Sub-Committee talking about you, maybe you can't do that anymore. By the second song, things looked like this:
Nope. You can't see the guy you paid to see.
What is meant to be an equalizing symbol ended up being a disaster. Gillis had to stop the music twice because people were standing in front of his laptop. I realize part of this trouble results from Philadelphians being stupid, but there's a certain point at which you can't have the keg party atmosphere. And to the guy with the sleeveless shirt and pink glasses with Croakies who stood right in front of the artist the entire show, thanks.
As an audience member, you don't realize how important the stage is until you don't really have it anymore. There's no center to focus on. As good as the music was, it ends up feeling like a dance club that's too loud.
That music, not necessarily the same mash-ups as the album and done live in a program called Audio Mulch, was good, but it depended too much on the place-holder chants and nondescript basslines that bridged the centerpieces of the album. Some more recent touches like the intro to "Love Lockdown" or the chorus of "Look Back at Me" sounded like rough drafts, and an attempt at bedding "A Milli" with the solo of "Say It Ain't So" sounded really off. He often returned to live favorites and early samples like Khia's "Ma Neck, Ma Back." However, "Hustlin'" over the coda to "Layla" was an experiment that worked way better than I expected. Some of the material is inspired, and some of it make you scrunch up your face, but it's that risk--and the claim that he never does the same show twice--that makes him such an intriguing live act.
By the end of the concert, I had made peace with getting pushed around and was able to enjoy the momentous closing, the re-creation of "Play Your Part, Pt. 2" with Andre 3000 rapping over Journey's "Faithfully." Gillis let it ride a long time before concluding his hour-plus show and ushering the sweating masses into a sea of cabs.
As he gets more influential and popular, Girl Talk's going to have to change his methods to fit his audience. For better or worse, he's not your dirty little secret anymore.