Sept. 20, 2012
Gregg Gillis, who performs as Girl Talk, had been playing Raleigh's Longbranch for about an hour when he finally paused. In such quantities, his manic mash-ups of pop, rock and hip-hop were an endurance test as much as they were a party starter. The pace of his product never lulled, pushing forward with frantic abandon, insisting that bodies in the crowd maintained constant motion. During the break, Gillis jumped on top of his DJ booth and shouted at the crowd, asking repeatedly if they were ready for him to continue. Each time he queried the crowd got louder. "Jesus Christ," he cried, "are we alive right now!?!" The crowd went nuts. They felt alive.
Gillis' collages match sexually charged raps to ironically virtuous classic rock crescendos, creating unstoppable rhythms from instantly recognizable metal riffs and equally ubiquitous hip-hop beats. It's a style that has earned him as much criticism as praise. He's been called a pirate in the press. A former editor of mine said he was no better than a wedding DJ. Critics will continue to analyze his intricate collections of popularly sourced sound, but that misses the point. Girl Talk is about energy, a dance party that reaffirms life, and while there are many — this writer included — who will likely never quite understand why, Gillis inspires that kind of boundless vivacity in his audiences.
Gillis played — triggering and organizing his various samples — amid panels of lights and screens that accentuated the fervor of his show. Walls of spotlights flashed at the audience as psychedelic images, such as a banana peeling itself and then reassembling, played on the screens. Balloons dropped at the beginning, confetti blasted intermittently and bigger balloons were thrown into the crowd during the finale. It had all the pomp and outsized frivolity of a Flaming Lips show without a shred of the intellectual pretension. Girl Talk is a concert spectacle for the everyday 20-something, a form of populist expression that feeds on and appeases today's attention-depleted culture.
Near the end of the show, Gillis resurrected "Oh No," the opening cut from his 2010 effort All Day, which places the confrontational chorus to Ludacris' "Move Bitch" over the grimy riffs of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." Some people sang along and danced. Others began pumping their fists, excited to hear a snippet of a hard rock classic. Gillis has the unique ability to unite such opposing forces in the mainstream world. For a certain set of listeners, he speaks their language better than almost anyone. Love him or hate him, that's a skill you have to respect.