Live Review: Calvin Harris at The Music Box
Who: Calvin Harris (DJ set)
Where: The Music Box
When: 5/27/2011 (at Midnight)
Here's a question for you all: How, exactly, does one review a DJ set?
Not a turntablism set, or a mashup set, but literally a guy up on stage, spinning popular songs at an enthusiastic crowd of fans dancing to the point of exhaustion. The conversion rate is supposed to be 1,000 words per picture, but when the performance consists of clapping, pushing buttons and toasting the crowd, it's clear that there's been a mix up at the pop culture central bank and the currency needs to be devalued somewhat.
We suggest there are probably two criteria: 1) how much did the crowd eat it up, and 2) how was the song selection? If both are considered, then objectively, dispassionately, Calvin Harris' Friday morning DJ set at The Music Box was superb. He really killed it, had the crowd eating out of his hands, and no doubt about it, he knows dance music, and he knows what the fuck he is doing behind the turntables. But he's also very bad at two things: Picking openers, and actually telling people ohbytheway, I'm DJing, not singing.
Let's talk for a moment about Calvin's opening act. We didn't catch his name, probably because we kept alternating between coma-like sleep and red-faced rage. This nameless journeyman whom we dubbed DJ Unce-Unce started right around 10 PM, and for two hours he spun song after same-sounding song as we wandered The Music Box increasingly bored out of our minds. Don't get us wrong - DJ Unce Unce was a total pro, a man who clearly knows his way around a laptop and turntables and more than a thing or two about beat matching. But he knows exactly jack/shit about choosing songs based on melody or memorability and didn't seem to care who knows. By 11:50 PM we and pretty much everyone in the upstairs patio were pulling our hair out, wondering which of the Greek gods we'd offended to deserve such a sickening ironic punishment.
Not an auspicious start to a great show, unless the plan is to demonstrate your competence by comparison to the ineptitude of the guy who went before you. If that was the intent, then Mission Accomplished Calvin, because you probably could have spent your set playing nothing but Lady Gaga and Ke$ha and you would have been recieved like the second coming of Jam Master Jay. Not that there was any risk of that not happening - The Music Box was packed full of devoted Calvinists bearing the symbols of their faith, sparkly sunglasses of the sort featured on the cover of Calvin's 2009 album Ready For The Weekend.
Fortunately, just as we were contemplating suicide, DJ Unce-Uce ended his set and Calvin appeared on stage to surprise a surprising amount of those in attendance by DJing. And this brings us back to the original question: How do you review a DJ set? Blandly, it seems, because we're really just going to tell you how much we liked seeing someone standing behind stuff despite the fact we were hoping for something else. Calvin's set was excellent. Seriously, it was incredible, not only by contrast to the terrible opening hack, but simply because Calvin Harris is really, really good at DJing. Seamlessly weaving an excellent selection of house, techno and electro cuts with his own music and delivering a solid, entertaining stage show that juxtaposed dancers dressed as Vegas showgirls with the pack of devoted VIPs crowded on the stage behind him, it was part magic show, part old school party and part Calvin's enviable Scottish chin.
But that element of surprise can't be disregarded. Sure, we know, you probably knew he was there to spin, not sing. Hell, it seemed the majority of people there knew it. We weren't that quick on the uptake - we only found out Calvin wasn't going on until midnight last night about 5 hours before the show- but we figured it out eventually. However, it is no exaggeration when we say that at least 15% of attendees didn't get that particular memo and judging by the angry tweets we read, they weren't happy about it. And who can blame them? It isn't like the promoters went out of their way to make it clear this is what was happening.
Don't believe us? Here's the proof:
You'll notice the letters D and J are decidedly missing from this poster. All they had to do was use them, and put them next to Calvin's name and all confusion would have been resolved*. This show wasn't cheap - $50.00 is an awful lot of money to bill people for the privilege of watching someone famous demonstrate their good taste, especially if they were expecting them to perform their songs instead of play them.
That said, we're keenly aware of the serious risk that, by accurately conveying our frustration, we'll be treated to one of Calvin's trademark Twitter-attacks. We regret that we're forced to risk the Tweetpocalypse, but we want to make it clear we love Calvin, honest! Just, you know, next time, try giving us a clearer heads up. And if you don't mind, pick an opening DJ with a better record collection.