Written by Daniel Barker
Jan 13, 2011
Image    Walking into a sold out Verizon Theater on January 13th to cover my first 2011 show for HMR there was no doubt I was out of my comfort zone and totally out of my element. A feeling that is testing for any critic but even more so for a devoted live music critic like me.  I had followed two years of hype to tonight’s show. Houston Hype that was conceived at a 2008 Warehouse Live show and christened at Free Press SummerFest in June 2010. Through word of mouth and social networking, the beauty of exponential fan base growth had brought us all together to experience this traveling circus called Girl Talk.

I had questions – Is a mix DJ really live music? Are we really at a “You should have been there” show? How can a concrete cave like the Verizon Theater morph instantly into an intimate rave atmosphere? I was ready to find some answers as I made my way to the stage arriving shortly after Penguin Prison had wrapped things up. One DJay at a time right???

Girl Talk is the creation of Gregg Michael Gillis of Pittsburgh, PA. He “writes” tracks by taking sampled music from all genres and splices them together into a semi-coherent “song”, if you will. He receives no permission for any of the sampled tunes on purpose leading the NY Times to call his music, “A lawsuit waiting to happen”. As most DJ’s, Gillis cites fair use as a legal backbone for his sampling practices. However, what seems to protect GT from prosecution is his lack of a profit motive. All of his music is available for download at a “pay what you want” price thru his Illegal Art website. Profits from shows are filtered back to the public in many unique forms and fashions acknowledged by his hometown which proclaimed December 7th, 2010, “Greg Gillis Day”. A day that will live in infamy, I am sure.

However you explain it, he makes it work. This ain’t no techno either!!!…GT has a knack for laying down old school rock loops mixed with modern rappers spittin’ over the top. This was the formula for his 2008 album, “Feed the Animals” that brought him to Houston for the aforementioned and infamous free show at The Warehouse Live – an album that made Time’s Top Ten Albums of that year. Tonight, Girl Talk is here to support the follow-up released on November 15, 2010 – “All Day”.  Due to the massive amount of early ticket sales, the promoter moved the show from The House of Blues to The Verizon Theater and still sold out over a week before the show. The jury was in and this was a 2011 MUST SEE SHOW and the year had barely started!!!!

ImageThis was my first time to shoot a DJ. Hell, it was my first time to even see one at a place any larger than a postage stamp. The stage was empty except for a large custom DJ table centered and a massive amount of light machines lined along the back. A smoke machine could not be too far out of sight as the smoke was billowing thru the audience as the lights went out and a “Girl Talk” chant filled the arena. Gregg Gillis stepped out to roaring applause donning his famed headband and sweat suit. He took a second to thank Houston for the support over the years and then got behind his two laptops and hit <PLAY> as 60 pre-selected young fans poured on stage and started getting D.O.W.N….

I have been to many a show since joining HMR where there was no one else shooting and it was not sold out. Many of these artists are incredibly talented with gifted big bands. I find it peculiar that a single man with 2 laptops can sell out The Verizon and have 8 photographers shooting his show. Just saying… From the beginning, I came to realize that this is an event or experience that Girl Talk is the centerpiece of. An event that a core group in 2008 participated in and had a spiritual experience then wanted to turn people on to it the next time and so forth and so on. That is where we are tonight. We all know how hard it is to re-create that first magic moment with someone. I just do not know how sustainable this art form can be.

ImageThe closest thing I can compare this show to would be a Pink Floyd or Flaming Lips show minus the personalization that can only come from a singer or musician playing live within the moment. A ton of lights and props were used tonight including confetti and toilet paper shot by a blower yielding assistant. Back to the lights!!! And don’t forget the screens, both large and small, they were all amazing, throbbing and shifting along to the bass line – the highlight for me.  The whole experience is an assault on the senses that seems to build and build to a climax then STOP and starts all over again.  Kinda cool when everything goes black and silent all of sudden and the only thing lit on stage is Gillis’s laptops glowing on his sweaty face. The guy is tireless as he dances nearly the whole show – think Angus Young from AC/DC type stage energy.

If you were on stage or upfront it was pretty intense but once I made my way to the back to catch my breath it was like a totally different place. There was a lot of square footage between the back of the crowd and the back of the Verizon amidst the long drink and bathroom lines. Stragglers looking like they were left out of the party roamed the perimeter kicking empty cups around. I do not feel that The Verizon held the intimacy as well as the Warehouse or Eleanor Tinsley Park. The feel I got from the crowd was that this was not the best of the three shows either.

I own these two albums I have mentioned and GT pulled mainly from them tonight. GG has a unique ear and brings an old soul perspective to his mixes. Almost all of them are happy and uplifting, leaving you feeling better after you dance the night away. A mix including John Lennon’s “Imagine” ended the set and it was a touching moment with all these bright eyed young hipsters singing along with a middle-aged man like me. Gillis came back out and told the crowd they were so awesome he was going to kick it for a while longer and he did just that. Until next time, I will see you out supporting live music.