So, at the risk of sounding totally out-of-touch with reality and armed with a get-off-of-my-lawn old man fist-shaking grumble, it’s taken me a few days to gather my thoughts about Tuesday night’s Chainsmokers concert at CSU’s Wolstein Center.
I was given the task of covering this EDM-driven band (band?) less than twelve hours before the show. Clearly not in my wheelhouse, the DJ/musicians appeal to a demographic best suited for the post-Disney Channel lineup of tweens and teens. I eagerly accepted the challenge; I’ll go see most shows just for the experience. Too bad I wasn’t around just when Hendrix or The Doors were breaking; I would have loved to have had the bragging rights to say I saw Jimi when he was just getting his start. But, today’s world works a little differently than the good ole days, when talent was found by an A&R rep and brought up through the ranks of sweaty dive bars, county fairs, the eventual Ed Sullivan performance and then the decline worthy of an eventual biopic helmed by Oliver Stone.
We now have Youtube; just ask Post Modern Jukebox and their rapid rise to fame via their two-and-a-half gazillion “fans” that tune in for their weekly video. Or the keyboard player that The Chainsmokers dragged out midway during their “set” to showcase the immense talent this kid had…who most of us had never heard of prior to his introduction. Will this kid go anywhere? Will he become the next Susan Boyle or William Hong? Only time will tell, right? But I’m not putting any money on it. Crowds are fickle.
Like I said a moment ago: I’m not too sure how to properly review this show. The duo, Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart, combine a mishmash of dance moves, old school aerobics, and a healthy smattering of f-bombs to the gathered crowd of primarily high school-aged females. They’ve released two EPs since late 2015, won a Grammy for “Best Dance Recording” and have garnered several other industry awards. Their first certified hit “#Selfie” is a perfect reflection of the social media age. Of course, they hate the tune and asked the crowd to generously flip off the song as they played it as loud as possible during the opening part of their show. Talk about either a total lack of self-awareness or a mega-dose of hipster zen; how do you hate something that put you on the stage in front of the throngs of paying customers?
Opening act Kiiara, another up-and-comer, played a forty-minute set peppered with songs like “Whippin,” about the “fuckboys” in her life. Perhaps it’s an ode to relationship problems and trying to find a good guy. Then again, maybe it’s a poor attempt to find a euphemism that can’t properly get the meaning across without such a carnal vernacular so ever-present in her lyrics.
The Chainsmokers’ debut album, Memories…Do Not Open dropped earlier this month. Right now they’re on top of the world, but based on the recent trends in the music industry who’s to say where they’ll be next year.
So, the show was interesting. I’ve never been to a show where the musicians played digital tracks of their own compositions instead of, ya know, actually performing them for the crowd. I mean, sampling is one thing; MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice used sampling of other artists’ compositions as a mainstay in their discographies and somewhat legitimized the practice. But playing pre-recorded tracks of your own stuff seems a tad bit lazy in a mom-I’ll-take-the-garbage-out-in-the-morning kinda way.
It all had the slight air of a couple of rich kids with access to a whole lot of pyro and disco balls playing dress up in the basement while blaring the Meco disco version of the Star Wars theme while mom and dad are out to dinner with some of their friends. Meaning, the duo onstage is having a hell of a lot of fun but it all seemed kind of reductive. Couldn’t we do this at home with our own I-Pods? And I’m sure many of us do. But why pay to see it?
Kudos to the lighting techs; there was a prodigious amount of light and I’m sure that’s all part and parcel of the experience. If only my basement had their lasers when I was a kid; think of how that Meco record would have filled up my Saturday nights as an eleven-year old when the parents were out?
At a few points during the show, Pall (on keys and drum machine) and Taggart (vocals and guitar) picked up their instruments to “prove to (the crowd) that we’re musicians, too!” Then a large riser would take them back up ten feet off the stage where they planted themselves behind the console. They played thirty-one songs throughout the evening; it was hard to tell where one song ended and the next began. The energy was certainly high; it was scaled up to eleven on an amp that actually peaked at about six. But, to which the enthusiastic crowd attested, the music seemed to be secondary to the experience: The bass line, the killer pyro, the confetti cannons, and the lasers that projected to the very top rafters of Wolstein, all had a pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain vibe to it. But you know what? I guess that’s okay. It’s the tail end of a long year of matriculation; alot of these attendees are CSU students and finals week is coming up…what a great way to blow off some steam.
So, as someone over the age of thirty destined to review a show like this is damned-if-I-do and vice versa. I don’t want to judge what appears to be the future of music: A pre-packaged glitzy, assault-on-your-senses show designed to keep you off-kilter. What am I seeing? What am I hearing? And I suppose in that regard it fulfilled its purpose; here I am two days later trying to objectively describe something that speaks to millions of young people while old farts like me stare blankly at the stage, asking myself if this is supposed to be music? But, to be fair, my parents’ generation said the same thing about Elvis on the Sullivan show or the Beatles’ first American shows. I imagine they stared at their hysterical daughters, fawning over John and Paul and wondering, exactly, to which level of hell had American culture descended?
Like everything in the post-9/11 world, The Chainsmokers did their job: they entertained the seven thousand attendees with a light show and 110+ dB assault on their inner ears. But we’ll see if they’re around for next year’s Grammys or if they’ll be another footnote in the early twenty-first century graveyard of dead musical curiosities.
So, to cap off my non-review review, I’ll say that The Chainsmokers are a perfect Kanyesque “artist” for this generation. They sell a lot of downloads. They have lots of “fans” on social media. They get the job done.
I’m just not too sure exactly what they did.