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Live Review and Photos: Girl Talk, March 21, 2011, Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles, CA

Somewhere, somehow, Girl Talk became larger than life. It seems like a lifetime ago that this DJ emerged from seemingly nowhere with an intense mashup collection Night Ripper. But, in actuality, Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) already had a couple of collections under his belt and was simply working his way to the top with the help of rave reviews and an inspired live show. In 2009, I had a chance to first take in the live event that Girl Talk produces… at Coachella. As with most Coachella performances, it was hard to say if what I saw was indicative of the live perormance in general. There were streamers, banners, flags, crazy backup dancers and the set concluded with Gillis crowd surfing the Sahara tent in an inflatable life raft to the sounds of Journey. It was incredible.

A couple of years later, with a new collection, All Day, to promote, Girl Talk came back to Southern California for three dates. Two of these were at the 4000-person Hollywood Palladium, which on Monday night, he managed to sell out. Now, it is weird to say promote when referring to All Day, because he is literally giving the record away. So, with this in the back of my mind, I have come to realize that the live show for Girl Talk is an entity to itself. Sure, I mean, Gillis has to make money somehow. But, the Girl Talk live set doesn’t need to be everything it is to do that. No, Gillis clearly loves entertaining, loves seeing people have fun, and loves finding ways to top himself. After last Monday, it will be hard to do so.

Opening the show were a pair of contrasting, electronic-based acts. Junk Culture, from Mississippi of all places, played like an audible acid trip; think Animal Collective goes to the circus. Playing as a two-piece, the group combined carnival keyboards, random pop-rap samples, live percussion and Avey Tare-like vocals for a vivid soundscape that was both stimulating and, at times, unnerving. And I mean unnerving in a good way. It is rare that music puts you on your guard and somewhat anxious. To make things weirder, Junk Culture main-man Deepak Mantena took his keyboard into the photo pit between bands and played personal samples for the folks on the rail, who had no idea what was going on. At the least, Mantena made some new friends.

Following Junk Culture was the more established Max Tundra. Tundra made a somewhat splash with the critically adored Mastered by Guy at the Exchange nearly ten years ago, took six years to follow it up and sits on the fringe of underground master and nearly-forgotten breakthrough. Well, I can report that Tundra is very much still playing music, still being weird as all hell, and still entertaining anyone who will give them a chance. Of course, you have to be willing to endure spastic dance moves, bizarre instrumentation (from melodium to sanza), and a cover of “Single Ladies.” It’s a good times show that impresses with the pure work ethic of Tundra, but offers rewards in the layers he crafts, as well.

Now, what is so special about Girl Talk? Well, aside from the hit and miss crowd (some were there to dance, some were there to get fucked up and treat the show like a giant karaoke party), Gillis treated the concert-goer to every bit of their money’s worth. The light show featured pixelated screens on both his DJ table and as a wall behind him, creating a beautiful tapestry of color, often using song lyrics to the mashup he was currently pushing. Behind Gillis, a ramshackle group of dancer-volunteers took to the stage with the sole duty of freaking out and looking sexy. Mission accomplished.

And this doesn’t even get into the props. Girl Talk’s assistant was a gentleman with a toilet-paper launcher. Yes, these exist and yes, they are awesome. The rest of the props came into play at key moments. During “Thriller,” confetti sprayed over the crowd when the song hit its peak. For “Since You’ve Been Gone,” giant inflatable were thown across the audience for the climax. And “Imagine,” concluded the encore with balloons dropped from the rafters to a barrage of popping noises.

For nearly 90 minutes, Gillis never rested. Standing up on his table, he repeatedly addressed the crowd at the top of his lungs. As a performer, there is a genius in knowing how to choose these giant moments in songs and playing them at the exact moment to make a crowd go berzerk. It is something that can easily be written off, as any party DJ worth his weight should be able to do the same. But, most party DJs can’t pack 4,000 people into a club. And the combination of spectacle and well-mashed tunes has turned Girl Talk’s shows into an event, but one has to ask where does Girl Talk go from here? Arenas? Stadiums? Even more confetti and balloons? Regardless of how Gillis tops himself, the certainty is that Girl Talk is at the top of his game, and, at the top of the live performance food chain.

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