Coachella 2009: Girl Talk screams for more
The anticipation ran high for the much-hyped Girl Talk set at this year's Coachella. Mild-mannered Gregg Gillis by day, he becomes a post-post-modern maestro of leave-no-dancer-behind culture jams, where everything from Lil' Wayne to Weezer to Michael Sembello's "Flashdance" soundtrack hit "Maniac" unite into one irresistible groove. The legend of his manic dance-party concerts has only grown in the last year, further propelled by the release of his most recent copyright-defying album, "Feed the Animals."
But all of the pre-game hype couldn't have predicted what would keep his Coachella date from becoming one of those lauded Sahara Tent moments of yore (Daft Punk 2006, anyone?). Even though the stage was set for something special, Girl Talk's show never fully achieved lift-off because too much of the focus was on him.
Girl Talk's secret weapon is that, heretofore, he's been able to make his shows much more about the audience than himself. Sure, he's the hyperactive cheerleader riling everyone up, but by opening the stage to the audience to dance, party, pose and make out (among other things), it's akin to seeing yourself in a Last Night's Party photo spread in real time — and with one hell of a soundtrack.
Even though Gillis dropped all of his now-familiar mash-ups to a crowd overflowing out of the tent area, something was missing. The guardrail at the front of the stage was never breached by the audience, and the undulating mass of stage dancers came from backstage. So instead of the audience ever really connecting with the action, it felt more like they were watching a separate Girl Talk show that they couldn't quite get into. Not that it wasn't a body-rocking party (which it was), the show just didn't reach the same level of party-time transcendence Gillis has been known to incite (i.e. the two roof-raising shows at the Music Box last October in L.A.).
Still, Gillis finally was able to engage with his faithful toward the end of the show with some inspired new routines. Snatches of MGMT, Justice and Kid Cudi snapped the slightly waning crowd back to attention and ignited a fresh dance floor toward the back of the tent. And never underestimate the power of Kelly Clarkson's now-classic single, "Since U Been Gone," which was used to great effect to close the show. Ultimately, it was Gillis' innate sense of what makes people move that saved the day.
UPDATE: An earlier version mistakenly stated that this was Girl Talk's Coachella debut. He first performed at the festival in 2007.
— Scott T. Sterling
Photo of Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk by Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times