Smile Politely

Girl Talk’s mixed blessing

It’s a mixed blessing being a successful touring act like Girl Talk. You do enough shows to big enough crowds and you work up a reputation, creating an expectation of amazement in your audience. Kids start to arrive at your concerts dressed like you, all basketball jerseys and headbands, twirling those cheesy glow sticks but more than ready to get down. They have a Girl Talk-shaped hole in their bodies, in their hearts and stomachs, and you spend the night filling it in.

But with this reputation, this knowledge, it can be more difficult to surprise. Whatever mystery about you and your live show is gone and crabby chicks like this writer spend the night dreaming about the time more than four years ago when she hardly knew anything about you, when you snuck on stage, slinking around, sly and patient, before letting loose, your body shaking and quaking like you were having a seizure.

But Greg Gillis is as aware of his stardom as anyone and perhaps for this reason he now wastes no time cutting to the chase. He knows what the kids want and he’s going to give it to them. A ring leader, a fire starter, a dancing freak, Gillis presses play on the rave machine as soon as he gets on stage, introductions be damned.

And Saturday night was no exception. Despite the hot, humid theater of the Canopy Club (at one point he declared it the “the hottest show of all time”), Mr. Gillis mixed, jumped, and danced, leading the crowd like an aerobics instructor on crack. He worked it out, he worked them up, at one point asking the crowd, “Can we get delirious?” With his manic mash-up of lights, confetti, Missy Elliott, “Under the Bridge,” and a well-played “Superstitious,” he managed to make a run-of-the-mill Saturday feel like New Year’s Eve. What more, after all, does a party need aside from “Whoomp! (There It Is)”?

As in his most recent studio albums, Girl Talk is working more classic (and sometimes awesomely sentimental) samples into his live show: Roy Orbison’s “You Got It,” ELO’s “It’s Magic,” and an excellent stripped down version of the Cars’ “Just What I Needed.” It’s hard to gauge how many of these picks resonated with the younger, college-age crowd (at times the show felt like a larger, sweatier frat party), but the juxtaposition between these and more crowd-pleasing hip-hop samples is nearly always satisfying. In fact, Gillis began and ended the show as he does on his latest album All Day, with Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” laid over Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and then a mix featuring John Lennon’s “Imagine,” respectively, as though knowing that his audience wanted exactly that.

Local act Common Loon started the night off with a decent set. Though an odd opening choice (Common Loon’s tunes are guitar-heavy and mid tempo, more of a contrast of what was to come than an appetizer), the guitar/drums duo managed to fill the cavernous Canopy Club with their grungy rock. At times they conjured Nirvana’s Nevermind, at others a deeper, dirtier surf rock. Near the end of the set, they broke out a slowed down cover of Madonna’s “Material Girl,” which was kind of perfect, a nice segue into the sample-driven headliner to come.

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