AREA2 at Verizon Amphitheater, August 13
Props: He's plucky enough to ignore label bosses, put on a personal wish list of a festival and operate at a profit; large-hearted (or indulgent) enough to call out 9/11 and connect it to a tune from the dazzling new 18; forward-thinking and plain blessed enough to dig into the public domain -- happily avoiding sample-clearance issues -- and end up with the funky-fresh 2x-platinum-and-climbing Play. Plus, he speaks up to and overstands his fans. Oh Mobester, yer too much.
Side Dish: Our very own DJ Dan lost himself in a propulsive deep-house mix, but Dutch jock Tiësto clearly had the freshest, hi-NRGest and most melodic set. "He laid it down," a gang-signing fan enthused. He even upstaged DJ John Digweed (!), who was nevertheless awesome. No doubt the nu-jack Tom Skinner hated following Tiësto, but his static beats bore the petulant air of not even trying. "That mix was bad," growled the same sweaty fan.
Main Event: Las Vegas novelty act Blue Man Group mercilessly flayed their monstrous convoluted tubes like Taiko drummers on speed. The only problem is that the titular blue men are better suited to television, where close-up cams capture their Marcel Marceau/Harpo Marxlike humor. Sensing this, they compensated with a seven-piece backing band who kicked out actual songs, like Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." For an anticlimactic climax, they launched silvery streamers onto the front rows.
It takes moxie to head up one of the summer's main music festivals 33 years into your career. At 52, the Thin White Duke -- looking dapper in an 1890s saloon-keeper kinda way -- hit the stage like he was getting his first break, pseudo-upper-class charm seductive as ever. Save for the Lost-in-Nebraska anecdote, Bowie's banter had an endearingly inside-joke quality that came off as a series of non sequiturs to fair-weather fans. It's no secret he hates playing all the old hits, but the arch glam-rocker thoroughly enjoyed belting out '80s career savers "China Girl" and "Let's Dance," even giving the crocodiles their fix of "Ziggy Stardust" for the encore. Overly modest, Bowie limited selections from the brand-new Heathen, a slyly smoldering album, especially the politically charged "Afraid," where he wears his paranoia on his sleeve. "You should go get yourself a copy," he winkingly said. "It's really quite good."
Parting Shots: Will-call: braaagh! You stink . . . the usual concession stand/merch extortion . . . bathrooms only mildly gross as opposed to a health hazard . . . parking a breeze, no exodus gridlock . . . perfect weather . . . festival Web site claims gates open at 3:30, yet Dieselboy -- the best drum & bass jock in the U.S -- spins at 2:15. Thanks . . . Oh, and Moby, could you name-drop a few more literary figures? Guess that Time-Life 100 Greatest Books Collection really paid off.
There are more people wearing Tiësto T-shirts today than David Bowie ones, and this blond, wide-eyed college bro is sporting the most interesting selection. "Tiësto rules!" he yells. Tiësto is the new Dave Matthews. And three hours from now, as the projected name of Tiësto burns in gasoline flames, the crowd will fall absolutely in love, because the Dutch DJ likes to smile at them, likes to wave, and because his pitch-perfect mixing of boring trance records has those synthesized epiphanies and relentless bass pulses that will launch these kids into their favorite frontier: that space of tension without friction.
But at the moment, these Tiëstoholics and other kids of less severe substance abuse are only tolerating the Avalanches' treble-happy DJ set, which is all about friction and no tension: four turntables of cross-fader boxing featuring Ludacris vs. St. Germain, Duke Ellington vs. Gary Glitter, C+C Music Factory vs. the Police, and so forth. Because the Aussie collective's debut album, Since I Left You, is a bedroom-studio masterpiece and it's been proved that their live-show experiments just don't work, the two deejaying Avalanches (Robbie Chater and Dexter Fabay) are racing through their bargain-bin crates and dropping the shit with a loot-'n'-run hip-hop style as a way to approximate the sample-heavy groove of their recorded sound. "I don't care," says a female Tiësto/John Digweed fan, "this still sucks."
Over in the amphitheater, Busta Rhymes is wrapping up his party with one of his dumber songs ("Pass the Courvoisier"), and says to Bowie and Moby's early arrivers, "Motherfuckers, we got you!" The motherfuckers were frowning at the beginning of his show and now they're smiling, according to Busta, and that's making him happy. Sure, the crowd might have noticed that Busta's one of those rare performers who can delve into hip-hop clichés without falling into parody, and that his insane throw-down on "Break Ya Neck" can only be the work of a virtuoso. But in a few hours they'll totally forget about him, when they hear Bowie sing "Ziggy Stardust" with that perfect Ziggy voice we thought we'd never hear again, and when they see Moby cap off the evening with a sensory hemorrhage of supernova lights, vast aural grids, ecstasy flashbacks and "Feeling So Real." It will always be a thankless job for the hip-hop artist on an Area tour, but Busta goes ahead and busts it anyway.