By Dennis Romero
The last time we caught Danny Tenaglia at Avalon Hollywood, in 2007, the stage production was over-the-top. He was perched on a boom-box façade, a with a cartoon subway cutout nearby, that celebrated the DJ's Big Apple heritage. This time around, the soul train was gone and the setting was minimal and austere. On Saturday Tenaglia bobbed and weaved behind a basic mixing console that was watched over by two security guards. Even the club's trademark go-go dancers were absent. It's strange how much things have changed in two years: The economy has tanked, all those cheesy bottle-service people seem to have run out of money and hair gel, and focus has returned to the dance floor.
There's a theory that recessions correlate with a bull market on the floor, where people turn for escape. The late 1970s (disco), the early 1990s (raving), and 2009 (Lady Gaga) all seem to prove it. Tenaglia, arguably the most-respected DJ in international club-land, has seen each era, too. His twisted, tribal grooves are particularly apropos for these shallow-pocketed times. This thing we call electronic dance music has much of its heart and soul in the boom-box core of inner-city New York, Chicago and Detroit. Why not take it away from the banquettes and put it back on the ground?
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Tenaglia's druggy, bass-line driven DJ set washed over Avalon like hydrant spray on a dog day afternoon. The crowd's reaction was joyous, and we'd be hard-pressed to remember such a packed floor staying so buoyant well into the a.m. It didn't need cheerleaders in booty shorts or colorful stage props to spark up. Tenaglia was in full flight in his trademark role of marathon man, pushing and pushing the depths of anticipation by using tempo restraint and letting the tracks steadily ascend as he built layers of escalating energy.
The spinner, who's nearing 50, bounced and danced and egged on the roiling floor. Nearby, Damian Murphy was celebrating 10-years of his purpose-driven Liquified parties in Los Angeles, and DJ Kazell, who had opened for Tenaglia, was soaking up the New Yorker's subterranean opus. Tenaglia has appeased festival crowds in recent years with the kind of fast-and-easy music normally associated with trance spinners. With nearly eight hours at his disposal, this time was different. This was the Tenaglia of legend, playing deeper and funkier than any of his acolytes (John Digweed, Steve Lawler), and unapologetically capturing the grit, sleaze and release of urban dance music. Saturday night and well into Sunday, Tenaglia made the bad times feel so good.