Live review: Girl Talk at the Hollywood Palladium
Saturday's Girl Talk show at the Hollywood Palladium ended in the only appropriate fashion -- with a girl in a spangly minidress doubled over outside the venue throwing up into a trash can while her friends held her hair back.
Whether because of vodka and Red Bulls or the sheer onslaught of Gregg Gillis' machine-gun mashup style, it underscored how his one-man remix project Girl Talk has transitioned since its 2006 breakthrough album, "Night Ripper." What started as a brainy experiment in stitching together a Frankenstein's monster of rap, classic rock and bubblegum pop snippets to unpack the pointlessness of "taste" is now one of the most efficient and unabashed joy-delivery services performing on stages today.
The set almost answered the question that's dogged Gillis from the start: Is Girl Talk art? It's impossible to talk about the work without the asterisk that his entire oeuvre depends on: sampling the original work of others and adding nothing but imagination (and considerable technical skill) in deploying them. But then, is grafting Missy Elliott's verse from "Get Ur Freak On" atop the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" any more or less original than a G-C-D chord progression on a guitar? And when there's this much fun to be had doing it, does the question even matter?
And when he sells out two nights at the Palladium, he doesn't have to. That Gillis tapes plastic sheeting over his laptops to protect them from booze spilled by his crowd-sourced dancers pretty much sums up his live ethic, and crowds react accordingly. He's stepped his stage game up of late -- here he had a formidable two-story LED rig in tow that amplified the pleasures of his one-party trick.
But what a trick. His seamlessly mixed set grabbed the entirety of popular music by the neck and shoved its tongue down its throat. Jay-Z's strut on "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" took on a new poignance atop Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark." Radiohead's bummer-grunge early hit "Creep" unexpectedly seeped in the '80s candy of "Come on Eileen." The house duo MSTRKRFT's club banger "Bounce (All I Do Is Party)" seemed venomously sarcastic with Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name Of" beneath it.
Much of Girl Talk's humor comes from splicing the bawdiest rap hooks into Dad-friendly classic rock. One wonders what Pete Townshend would make of "Baba O'Riley" with a guest drop from Pitbull's "Hotel Room Service," and it's now impossible to hear Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" without the phantom of Three 6 Mafia intoning its preferred sex acts from "I'd Rather" in the chorus.
It's an easy joke but a good one, and one that imagines a kind of perfect poptimism that takes the burden of "liking" a song and instead just asks you to recognize the inherent joy within it. Gillis is an alchemist who can hear blind dates between indie rock and new jack swing and grunge and one-hit-wonders (is there another scenario where 4,000 people go nuts to Len's "Steal My Sunshine" in 2011?).
It's not all for laughs -- the latter third of Gillis' set bent toward more traditional house and techno, capably wrangled. And there's a real earnestness to his craft -- Smashing Pumpkins' "Today" felt transcendent paired with Youngbloodz's "Damn!," and anyone who triggers a balloon drop to John Lennon's "Imagine" truly believes in the power of music to move people. Even if it moves you to end the night hunched over a garbage bin.
-- August Brown
MORE FROM POP & HISS: