Girl Talk’s Incongruous Magic
Mashup artist creates pop mayhem
The House of Blues has hosted many large bands, but on Saturday night only one man with a laptop commanded the stage. Greg Gillis isn’t a musician in the strictest sense of the word, and the event was not so much a concert as a full-fledged dance party. Gillis, known by his stage name Girl Talk, lacks the musical pedigree of the typical House of Blues act, but he can still create a great amount of energy. By the end of his nearly two-hour set of mixing and mashing on Saturday night, he made it clear that mash-up concerts are just as legitimate a form of entertainment as traditional ones.
Gillis has released five albums since 2002 and specializes in mashups, or the blending of pre-recorded songs to make a new composition. Whereas mashups typically throw together two or three songs, Gillis often crams 30 or more samples onto one track, often from disparate genres and time periods. As scattered as his sources may be, Gillis manages to turn a collection of instantly recognizable sound bytes into cohesive songs with definite and wholly new forms. Ever since he garnered attention for his 2006 album “Night Ripper,” which infamously mashed Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” with Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” his popularity has skyrocketed.
The crowds at Gillis’s shows are not just audience members, but performers. One man standing in front of a computer might become monotonous, but Gillis integrates the audience into his act: he lets masses of fans come onstage to dance around him, often engages in call-and-response, and channels the crowd’s chaos into his energetic mixes in a feedback loop of enthusiasm. The audience seemed to consist almost exclusively of teenagers and college students, many wearing colorful clothing, bracelets, fitted hats, and Ray Ban sunglasses. Lively and volatile even before Gillis arrived, the crowd chanted his name and engaged in minor skirmishes. When Gillis appeared to the thundering drums and guitars of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and the obnoxious snarl of Ludacris’s “Move Bitch,” the crowd erupted into dance. The atmosphere was almost riotous.
Gillis fed off the raucous energy and sped through a dizzying number of mashups, including some from his latest album “All Day.” Imagining the original artists onstage necessitates more stages than Live 8 and Live Aid put together: Notorious B.I.G. spits a verse over the piano groove of Kanye West’s “Runaway,” after which the Ramones take the stage flanked by a swaggering Busta Rhymes. They retreat, and Fugazi enters playing the rumbling riff to “Waiting Room.” Enter Rihanna: “Tonight I’ma let you be the captain / Tonight I’ma let you do your thing.”
Some of Girl Talk’s mashups were fascinating solely because of the incongruity of the original tracks. He paired Simon and Garfunkel’s jubilant “Cecilia” with Eminem’s sarcastic “Shake That” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” with Drake’s “Over.” In one innovative section he burned through the Beatles’ “Birthday,” Peter, Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks,” and Wacka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in da Paint” in quick succession, before mixing them all back together. He often resorted to sing-alongs to rile up and unite the crowd: the room practically exploded during Kelly Clarkson’s anthem “Since U Been Gone.”
Dancing furiously behind his laptop and grinning ear-to-ear, Gillis seemed equally pleased with his creations. He ad-libbed throughout, each time to the roar of the audience (“Do we feel hot right now?”). At one point he got up on the table and grooved to Miley Cyrus. And he took two encores, seemingly delighted each time he came back. The concert seemed just as much fun for him as it was for the ecstatic audience.
Of equal importance to the music itself was the multitude of visual effects. Behind Gillis, a large LED light board flashed words (“Hey, ho, let’s go”), geometric patterns, and—for some reason—dinosaurs. Among a slew of items propelled into the delighted crowd were toilet paper, small balloons, giant balloons, giant plastic tubes full of balloons, water droplets, confetti, giant plastic tubes full of confetti, dolls, and large inflatable cushions. Each new wave of props renewed the crowd’s fervor, and between Gillis and the many diversions, there was hardly a dull moment in the show.
The night was all about the party, but Girl Talk ended his act on a less raucous note by mixing John Lennon’s hopeful “Imagine” with Bun B’s inspirational verse on UGK’s “One Day.” The crowd sang along, probably less for the message and more just for the fun of it. After all, the message Girl Talk seems most concerned with sending is, simply, “I want to see all your hands.”