November 9, 2013
When Swedish golden boy Avicii is DJing, he does this back and forth shuffling with his right hand in the air, fingers motioning along with the music. In a sense, he's like the Gustavo Dudamel of EDM, conducting the elements that go into his massive live show -- the lights, the visuals, the buttons, the crowd-- all while playing mostly other peoples' songs.
On Saturday night he filled the Hollywood Bowl, where, of course, Dudamel and his L.A. Phil are regulars. Getting into the venue involved extensive pat downs -- men in one line, women in the other. They were on close look-out for banned stuff like laser pointers, masks, candy necklaces, and drugs -- not to mention outside food and beverages, picnic baskets, large bags, unsealed packs of gum and cigarettes and blankets, which are all usually allowed into the Bowl. The EDM kids were welcome, but didn't seem to be particularly trusted.
In any case, everyone was pretty well behaved, tame even, especially compared to, say, EDC or Hard. There were a few girls in tutus, but also plenty of leather jacket hipsters, well-heeled middle aged folks, high school students, and parents with their kids.
It all shows that Avicii is a massive crossover success. He was mega popular even before his hit "Wake Me Up" hit mainstream radio and County Music Television. Now, he's a pop culture brand.
After opening sets by Cazzette, Arty, Excision and Sander Van Doorn, Avicii came out at 9 pm wearing a t-shirt and a snapback. He climbed to the top of his LED perch and kicked the set off with "Hey Brother," the other country-fied single from his latest album, True.
The lights were dazzling, blinding. The November fog mixed with the fake smoke emanating from the stage.
The older couple in the box in front of us smoked a joint and began making out heavily. It was on.
Avicii, all gangly arms and Nordic bone structure, also sampled the Motown hit "Tracks of My Tears" and other soul influenced sounds which were all, of course, given the big beat drop treatment.
It was thrilling yes, but ironically at times felt a bit soulless.
It is unabashedly fun, and even cathartic, to be a part of a group sing along with 17,000 or so other people. Avicii expertly facilitated such moments, playing anthemic interpretations of hits by Florence and the Machine, Calvin Harris, M83, Snow Patrol, Deadmau5, Rihanna, The Temper Trap and his own songs including "Silhouettes", "Fade Into Darkness" and "Le7els."
It was a bit like a revue of the biggest pop hits of the last few years, and the crowd went wild for it, truly having a moment of joyous unison when he played Swedish House Mafia's big time hit "Don't You Worry Child."
Perhaps the reason Avicii's so divisive is that there is nothing dangerous about him. Even when he dropped more aggressive songs like Dog Blood's "Next Order" and Pharoahe Monch's "Simon Says", (which found the audience screaming along the lyrics "Get the fuck up! Girls, rub on your titties!") it all still felt really safe -- and not just because no one was wearing any damn candy necklaces.
This is basically electronic music stripped of all underground remnants. That's not necessarily bad, but it's also not really sexy, or alluring, or provocative. There is no risk.
The visual show was impressive, with images ranging from deep space to Escher-style staircases to animated pyramids and images of the L.A. skyline and traffic on the 110. "Make some noise Hollywood" the flashing images instructed towards the end of the show, as Avicii got on the mic and uttered his one and only statement of the evening, "L.A., thank you so much. You're amazing. Thank you."
The stage then went dark for a few seconds, and then the a cappella voice of Aloe Blacc, the singer on "Wake Me Up" cut through the silence. For a moment, most everyone in the crowd stopped taking selfies and sang along with pure abandon as the song hit and a huge fireworks display lit up the sky above the stage.
Unfortunately, Avicii only played the first minute or so of the song.
Random notebook dump: "The guy sitting in front of us is FaceTiming the show for his dad."
Personal bias: Few songs make me happier than "Don't You Worry Child."
Overheard in the crowd: "The fireworks were cool, but why didn't he play the song?"
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