When Greg Gillis triumphantly took the stage, he told the audience “with this many young people in the audience, magic can happen.” After the hour I spent in anxiety, wondering if my pass into the show would stop fighting with her girl friend, it seemed only fair. It had been a rough crossing. But that's neither here nor there — it was magical, in the end.
Greg Gillis, or Girl Talk, is emphatically “not a DJ,” according to his T-shirt, but you wouldn't be faulted for thinking otherwise. He's a digital collagist and gleeful dance-floor populist, working in a genre (the mashup) pioneered on UK pirate radio and perfected by DJs like Diplo and Hollertronix. His recent and best album, 2006's “Night Ripper,” is a thrilling, if exasperating, spoof of a traditional DJ mix set. I say spoof, not because it aims for humor, but where a more traditional DJ aims for erudition and opacity in his samples, Girl Talk goes for the jugular. His “songs” are hook after thrilling hook, drawn from Top 40 and hip-hop radio (favorites include: Ciara, Three Six Mafia, and Notorious B.I.G.), all with beat and exhilaration as their MO. It's a bit annoying, after a while, no matter how witty his assemblage can be. It also seems to make for a terrible live show — without the sort of jazzy improvisation that turntablists like DJ Spooky rely on, what precisely, does Girl Talk do for 40 minutes?
He ignores performing altogether, and creates a mass bacchanal on and off the stage. The show began rather traditionally with a long set from Grand Serenade, a local drone-pop act, whose show resembled a long mashnote to the Walkmen (though, it could've just been the PA). But as Gillis took the stage, and played his overture (a collection of radio blurbs played over “Stay Fly”), the crowd slowly pulsed and then stormed the stage. As the night went on, the dancing got raunchier, and the beats got newer. Gillis may no longer strip down to his skivvies during performances, but a fertile pop summer has led to an invigorated new set — Rihanna, Clipse, and MIA shared the night with breaks from Elastica and 2 Live Crew. At worst, the new material sounded like any generic house remix of a pop song, notably, a boring tread through “I'm a Flirt,” and at best, like all of this summer's parties reduced to a powerful spell.