Girl Talk: Lollapalooza

By • Aug 6th, 2008 • Category: Concert Reviews
Photo courtesy of Randy Cremean / Soundcheck Magazine

Photo courtesy of Randy Cremean / Soundcheck Magazine

There are career-defining performances, and then there are career-altering ones.

The Beatles weren’t defined by “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, but it certainly set the course for the rest of the band’s career. The Who’s path wasn’t so much redirected by a 1979 concert in which almost a dozen people were trampled to death in Cincinnati, but that tragedy came to characterize the group’s aggressive, assaulting style of hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll.

Yes, there are gigs that come to identify a band’s entire existence (Oasis at Wembly Stadium), and there are ones that just change where an artist is headed (Radiohead in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2001). Although it’s too early to know whether Gregg Gillis’ Sunday evening slot at this year’s Lollapalooza will define the laptop artist, it undoubtedly has redirected his course.

Slated on the Citi stage at 6:30 p.m. – the weekend’s last performer on the structure – Gillis, aka Girl Talk, was faced with the problem of turning his crowd-fused routines into a festival-worthy show. After years of mashing up Top 40 radio staples into cut-and-paste tracks in dance clubs the world over, the 26-year-old has only a year of festival experience under his belt. Much of Gillis’ shows rely on his interaction with the crowd–including getting nearly naked and grinding on the floor, à la his memorable New Year’s Eve show in 2006 at Chicago’s Empty bottle.

Gillis’ dilemma of reaching festival audiences isn’t new: it’s an old quandary, such as last year’s Montreal Jazz Festival, in which he strapped his computer to his chest and performed entirely amongst the crowd. With each idea, the fests have lacked the urgency and excitement of those inside gigs. No matter how great the music, how engaging Girl Talk’s onstage antics, the setting is inherently cold. And unless something was to change, this year’s Lollapalooza would be no different.

However, Lollapalooza promoters should have considered both the success of Gillis’ June release, Feed The Animals, as well as his festival track record in the city. In 2007, the Chicago Police Department shut down Girl Talk’s performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival because a crowd that rivaled the size of that night’s headliner’s squeezed in to watch the side stage.

The Citi setup this year was not only an auxiliary stage, but also one without cross traffic, due to its proximity to security fences and food tents. Thus, those leaving earlier performances were left to fight their way through the thousands of people pushing their ways to the front while waiting for Gillis, hours before his Girl Talk time slot.

A half-hour before his scheduled concert – and unbeknownst to the stage security – passes were given to about 50 fans at random, which granted the ecstatic revelers access to dance alongside Gillis on the high-rise stage. Assuming, of course, that they could dodge the two stagehands, who were wearing faux police uniforms and using altered leaf blowers to dispense more than 100 rolls of toilet paper and confetti over the crowd while also blowing up gigantic “G” and “T” balloons.

It became the best of both Girl Talk worlds – a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd moving as individuals as well as a larger singular organism like in those club performances, but also a colossal open-air slot at a venue large enough to hold tens of thousands. This was the performance that he had been aiming for during the past year while trying to discover how to bring the intimacy of underground rooms to the scope of summer festivals.

And it stayed this way for the hour of music that mixed samples from his most recent LP, with 2006’s Night Ripper and tunes released in the past month new enough only for his live sets. The remarkable performance sent the dancing crowd to near-riot levels, with photographers being evacuated from the media pit after minutes for safety concerns, as well as the main stage’s security crew leaving Gnarls Barkley’s neighboring show to aid with the ever-growing Girl Talk crowd.

The sweat-drenched horde climbed trees, light poles and even unsuspecting strangers to get a better view or weasel their ways closer. Some even scaled the security fences and rushed the backstage area while attempting to sneak in with those fans lucky – and safe – enough to get bracelets to join Gillis next to his prized laptop.

With 5 minutes remaining, the man of the hour grabbed the mic and asked all the dancers to leave the stage. Cueing up a few of Feed The Animals’ closing samples, two more stagehands brought the now boxer-clad Gillis an inflatable vinyl river raft. After thanking the audience one last time, he gave his computer a final check and dove into the sea of thousands and was carried overhead until he disappeared triumphantly somewhere at the back of the euphoric thousands.

He won’t return the same.

Soundcheck Magazine, August 2008

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