Girl Talk's House of Blues show was the most rock 'n' roll show I've seen this year, and only partially because of the music. Actually, what was rock 'n' roll about it was only partially connected to the music. At the sold out show, I was the only person I saw over 40, and I saw few obvious thirtysomethings. The crowd was young, and most everybody there was dressed to be a star. The wardrobe choices drew heavily from '70s and '80s notions of glam - a lot of shiny material - but all were more interesting and energized than the handful of people in rock 'n' roll black T-shirts and shorts.
This was the sort of show that drew the Us vs. Them line good rock 'n' roll draws, one that marks who's cool and who isn't. The line's unstable and who's cool depends on the show and the crowd, but the night was charged with the electricity of people who were all quite confident they knew something their elders and the uncool didn't. Two people in line had to ask me (with equal incredulity), "You know Girl Talk?"
Girl Talk - Gregg Gillis - doesn't actually do much onstage. He hunches over a table and rocks while manipulating the tracks in his sonic collage, but there was more genuine danger onstage than I've seen in a long time. Anyone who wanted onstage was welcome, so it was soon packed with people, some dancing, some nodding, some simply into their moment onstage. People were behind Gillis, and at one point people bodysurfed the back of the stage crowd. When he revved up the energy, the crowd onstage surged, so much so that people had to hang on to his desk so that it didn't get pushed into the audience. At one point, two legs were knocked out from under the desk and it banged to the ground with an ugly electronic fart.
As for the music itself, it brought to mind the poet Ted Berrigan's Train Ride. In the book-length poem, Berrigan described what he saw looking out the window while on a train, but he didn't provide the markers to indicate the passing of space. He simply responded to what he saw each time, giving the work a loose coherence - because things don't change that quickly - and a surreal quality as disconnected places and thoughts become connected. Girl Talk's show was a speeding train through the back half of the 20th Century, and his combinations of tracks spoke to each other in different ways. It's hard not to think of the irony of hip-hop voices matched with classic rock, the latter often the musical hiding place for those who hate rap. He also wasn't above easy laughs, at one point alternating between Paul McCartney crooning, "I love you" and 2 Live Crew shouting "We want some pussy."
But Girl Talk's most radical move was to treat all pop as equal. Classic rock, pop hits and hip-hop were equally loved and mocked, equally valuable building blocks for his music. And whether they knew exactly what was going on or not, the audience knew they were seeing something, and they were hearing inclusive values enacted. And they could put their arms around their pals' shoulders or waists celebrate a collective moment. It was a rock 'n' roll thing.