I’ve seen things people who’ve never stayed out past 8 p.m. wouldn’t believe. I watched a couple graphically simulating sex on the dance floor as a 100-strong crowd circled around and cheered them on. I watched a noise artist play pornographic sounds punctuated by police sirens in a major Miami nightclub while being tackled and dragged to the ground by three women, all in the span of ten minutes.
Those moments inspired more awe, more wonderment than anything the Chainsmokers’ big-budget bonanza at American Airlines Arena offered Thursday night.
Time to wheeze.
Last night the EDM-pop pair responsible for your little cousin’s favorite songs returned to Miami for the latest stop on their World War Joy tour. Over the course of their nearly two-hour concert, the Chainsmokers — Alex Pall and Drew Taggart — were joined onstage by drummer Matt McGuire, opening acts 5 Seconds of Summer and Lennon Stella, plus several motorcyclists, dancers, and stagehands. With the help of their collaborators, the “Closer” and “Paris” hitmakers seemingly brought everything they had to the performance, assembling a lavish stage show that wound through “highlights” of their discography while hitting the audience with pyrotechnics, colorful visuals, and anecdotes about kicking it in Malibu with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
But not even the aforementioned manpower and presumed enthusiasm that comes with multiple chart-topping songs and billions of streams could help the Chainsmokers avoid the cardinal sin of showmanship: being boring.
I previously reviewed the Chainsmokers when the duo commenced its Memories Do Not Open Tour at the very same arena in April 2017. I didn’t revisit the write-up until very early this morning, when the Red Bull and the thrill of beating Miami traffic had worn off. I remembered not having enjoyed it, but I hadn’t recalled the boredom.
After taking to the stage with flares in hand, Pall, Taggart, and McGuire launched the show with “Takeaway,” the Chainsmokers’ collaboration with Lennon Stella. Following a requisite guest appearance by the female vocalist, the group pivoted to harder, brostep-derived sounds with the “1, 2, 1, 2, 3 let’s get it!” countdown and bass drop that every EDM show inevitably requires.
Vocalist Taggart appeared to loosen up after a non sequitur cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” and got chatty with the half-full arena.
“My mom said I could wear shorts tonight, so it’s gonna be a good fucking night,” he bragged. “If you’re wearing shorts, make some fucking noise!”
The honesty of the moment set the stage for the band’s vulnerable performance of “Sick Boy,” a meditation on the trappings of celebrity and Taggart’s difficulty reconciling the contradictions of being a globetrotting EDM superstar and a sensitive artiste. Climbing into the Globe of Death that’d later host motorcyclists á la Ryan Gosling in The Place Beyond the Pines , Taggart gave an admirable demonstration of his quads and core strength by scaling the prop as it lifted into the air. As far as external displays of inner torment go, it was... competent.
As soon as the song ended, the crowd decided en masse to use the brief pause as an opportunity to chat. It was a rare moment of respite in an evening that proceeded in a chaotic but predictable manner: a few songs, a quick slip-in of indistinct dubstep, a visual spectacle devoid of context, a familiar riff or hook by artists other than the Chainsmokers, followed by a return to the original material.
That ADHD approach was internalized by the audience, which alternated between curating Instagram content and going through the motions of acceptable EDM-show conduct. When people weren’t looking at their phones, it seemed like an extended contest of “Who can show they’re having fun in the most conspicuous manner possible?”
In the Chainsmokers’ defense, it’s hard to build a coherent live show with strong ideas when your source material isn’t all that great. The group found a formula for radio success by depriving their music of any hints of edge, subtlety, or sympathy for the marginalized communities who made electronic music and club culture what it is today. That’s fine for crafting earworms that lodge themselves in the frontal lobes of listeners who don’t venture beyond Spotify playlists or their car’s AM and FM broadcasts, but it doesn’t — it can’t — translate to a memorable show based around your music.
The night's biggest moments came when the band dropped 30-second snippets of universally known dance hits, including "Get Ready for This" by 2 Unlimited and Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400”; it’s almost as if the spontaneity and surprise of good DJ sets — which the Chainsmokers forsook a long time ago — forge more powerful emotional connections than bombastic fireworks displays that have nothing to do with the songs they're set against.
The Chainsmokers seem to be doing their damnedest to expand beyond the festivals and bottle-service clubs to which EDM acts have been consigned. The trouble is, effective stadium performances work by amplifying the feelings engendered by the music and leaning into the audience’s relationship with the artists. Shows like that feel so big and wondrous that you leave wanting to share your experience with the rest of the world — or at the very least start a dance party on a New York City subway platform.
No amount of flames, motorcycles, or “let’s rage” platitudes can fill the void of shitty songwriting.
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