I was a bit taken aback when the audience at First Avenue started pulling themselves onstage en masse on Monday night, surrounding the security, crowding every inch of the stage, and generally flailing wildly. Surely someone was going to get hurt? Surely the interlopers would be kicked out? Surely…not. This was after all, a Girl Talk performance, a show that takes the rules of the orthodox concert and turns them on their heads. Despite having no original music, and no stage presence beyond a little guy and a laptop, Girl Talk DJ Greg Gillis’s one-man shows manage to be among the wildest concert experiences around, events comparable to the bacchanalian excesses of ancient Rome.
To start with, there was the crowd. Dancing hipsters didn’t just fill the stage, they filled every corner of the club, whirling and dancing like dervishes to the mashed-up remixes sent forth from Gillis’s laptop into the eye of the hurricane. As Roy Orbison was spliced into Jay-Z and Public Enemy segued to Cheap Trick, concertgoers filled the air with confetti and toilet paper. They dressed as aliens and animals and surfed the crowd. They tore their clothes off and pressed their writhing bodies into one another without a hint of shame. Their shoes flew through the air. Their drinks were thrown at each other. Their energy took on the fanaticism of a religious cult whose god is chaos—chaos with a beat.
I had to exit the steamy club repeatedly to get fresh air, and it was like stepping out of an opium den. The sweaty clubbers were quickly forced to become reacquainted with a real world of rules and regulations. One young woman first begged and then threatened violence when the security staff told her she could not come back inside. A young man tried to talk me into giving him my over-21 wristband, saying that his was taken when he was kicked out, meanwhile wildly gesticulating with a hand that was clearly marked with the under-21 stigmata. “There are 800 people on ecstasy in there,” he slurred. “How could they kick me out for being drunk?” Trying to take the communal dance party to the street, several young people even attempted to beat on a nearby street busker’s bongos and were met with angry shouts from the unamused musician.
As the night wound to a close I couldn’t help but wonder where all these maniacal worshippers of the dance would go. Did they have families at home? Were there boring office jobs to go to the next morning? Dry university classes on American history? Somehow it was extremely difficult to imagine everyone just going back to their normal lives. Like some kind of deity, Gillis had descended on the town and whipped everyone into a frenzy. Just like any other musician, though, he had to move on to the next town the following day. Something tells me, though, that if he had commanded those First Ave partiers to follow him to Chicago, or Omaha, or to the ends of the earth, they would have done their best to try.