October 31, 2006

A Masterpiece of Mash Ups

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Castaways is a bar somewhere in Ithaca. There is a fish-line, Christmas light, cursive sign hanging crooked over the entrance. Although I doubt many people have been enticed to enter this bar because of its sign, it is a charming and cavalier display. The entire venue is decorated with a cheesy (but not Disney-esque) nautical motif: a bamboo roof on the bar, Mens and Womens indicated in sailors-rope and some sort of a Boat Bar on the deck outside. The place is timeless — it could be old and rundown or it could be new and unkempt — but altogether, it is charming and homey. A bar space fills the back of the venue with tables for eating and playing pool, while the front is cleared with a large space and a small, personable stage. On Friday night at 9:00 p.m., the only inhabitants were Townies, but by 10:00 p.m. the dance floor was packed with Halloweeners from everywhere, eagerly anticipating the night’s performance.
DJIbouti and Adam Vana, both members of the Electronic Music Collective (EMC), started off the night spinning dance music that kept everyone moving for most of their two hour set. Although their set dragged on for a bit too long, they kept things moving while more and more people packed onto the dance floor. Vana and Djibouti were followed by a 45 minute set from Professor Murder. This band took the stage and the singer, who sounded desperate for a replacement, told the crowd: “This is what we look like, and now you’ll see what we sound like!” This ridiculous one-liner and the singer’s obsession with image and fashion produced something that wasn’t even cool enough to dub pretentious. Luckily, Prof. Murder’s music was very rhythmic and didn’t focus on vocals, or I fear many would not have lasted through to the main event. The singer played an array of percussion instruments and the keyboardist also played an electronic drum pad. Although the band strove to sound something like The Rapture, the result was more reminiscent of the George of the Jungle theme song (“George, George, George of the Jungle, Watch out for that Tree!!!”) — with (sorry to say) “crash into tree included.” Although the band was nothing exemplary, people kept dancing and Prof. Murder even managed to get the crowd to sing along. The most entertaining part of the hour, however, was watching kids from the crowd rush the stage and put on a rather hodge-podge dance show of their own creation (Sun Associate Arts Editor dancing included). Upon reflection, Professor Murder was a fine opener — they were enjoyable but did not (and could not) threaten the performance of Girl Talk.
By 11:30 p.m., Castaways was packed with people like sardines. By 11:45 p.m., Professor Murder finished their set and a young gawky guy walked onto stage, set up his laptop and grabbed the mic. Average height, lanky build and shy smile, Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, is a Super Star. At 12:00 a.m. the music started bumping just as Girl Talk rushed the stage in his signature three-piece suit. The crowd was enchanted — everyone exploded ecstatically into frantic dance-moves, and Gregg Gillis’ funkiness would have made Napoleon Dynamite proud! The audience could relate so well to this young genius, for he was utterly enthralled in his music and he clearly enjoying himself in front of an equally adoring crowd.
Girl Talk read the crowd perfectly: he warmed things up for the right amount of time and then let it sizzle. Every new song and reference seemed to play at the right times. Some highlights included Notorious B.I.G., Beck and even Nirvana. Despite efforts from bouncers to remove dancers from the stage, general admits managed to dance on stage throughout his set — the boundary between artist and audience was continually broken down. A number of times, because he genuinely cared, Girl Talk would ask, “Is everyone still with me?” In response, the crowd always cheered because, of course, everyone was by his side.
Continuously throughout his set, Girl talk was literally standing in the audience, crowd surfing and talking to fans. By the last song of the night, he took the mic in hand and sang a song from off the stage: there was an exhilarating, party atmosphere in a down home, community milieu. By creating something fresh out of musical references that span across many genres and years, he was able to use his medium to relate to an audience more affectively than some of the artists he spins can do on their own — which worked extremely well in such an intimate venue. Girl Talk put on an interactive and exciting performance that Gregg Gillis enjoyed as much as the crowd. Although he only played for one amazing hour, Gillis left everyone wanting more, more and more.