“I need to know now, can you love me again?”
That was the opening line of Avicii's set on Ultra Music Festival 2015's main stage last night.
Sure, they weren't his words. (He isn't an especially chatty DJ, only occasionally reaching for the mic to express his affection for the fans or his conviction that now is the most amazing moment of his life.) And actually, the question, “can you love me again?,” is the titular phrase from a song by 24-year-old English soul singer John Newman.
But as the Swedish DJ looped those words through his mix, it was tough not to read them as a slyly veiled apology for the last-minute emergency cancellation of his Ultra 2014 headlining set.
Last year, the then-24-year-old EDM superstar collapsed just minutes before a scheduled show at the Avicii Hotel, a weeklong branded takeover of the SLS Hotel on South Beach.
He was rushed to the hospital. He was held overnight. And he was evaluated for surgery to remove his gall bladder and appendix. Yet fans still hoped that he wouldn't miss the next night's gig at Ultra.
Unfortunately, though, the young Swede was forced to cancel. He needed to go under the knife. And somewhat shockingly, the ailing DJ was replaced by the notorious Deadmau5, an incessantly snarky, EDM-hating, Ultra-trashing EDM superstar and repeat Ultra headliner. Almost always sarcastic and never averse to controversy, the King Rat just couldn't keep himself from being a smart-ass and playing "Levels" — the song that, just a few years earlier, had turned Avicii into one of the biggest dance music artists on Earth.
Following his Ultra 2014 health scare, Avicii lost some of the massive commercial momentum that he'd amassed from late 2011 through late 2013, beginning with breakthrough hit, "Levels," and then continuing with the initially ridiculed but eventually enormous bluegrass-meets-EDM experiment, "Wake Me Up."
He tried to resume his usual routine after surgery. But the DJ ended up taking time off from touring and playing festivals to attend to his health. "Since my operation, I'd just been going and going," he told Billboard. "I was dropping weight. I needed to take a break."
Last night, though, the Swede proved he's back. Even the epic rain showers that slammed Ultra's opening day never really threatened to screw with his return to the Main Stage. And when he stepped into the elaborate scaffolded DJ booth, he triumphantly threw his hands in the air, obviously pleased to be standing before tens of thousands of Miami dance fans again.
Only about ten minutes into the set, he unleashed "Levels," reclaiming the song from Deadmau5. And obviously, it was the night's most triumphant moment. Despite the drizzling rain, the crowd responded with spastic enthusiasm, as if the four-year-old track already held some sort of profoundly nostalgic magic.
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"Wake Me Up" also drove Ultra's 20,000-strong Main Stage mob into a fist-pumping fit of reminiscence. But otherwise, the Swede explored the so-called "organic rock" sound that's characterized his singles since late 2013. At times, the crowd slipped into slight boredom. But Avicii never did.
He played "The Days," his collaboration with Robbie Williams. And he let loose "Lovers on the Sun," with David Guetta. And he ended with "Hey, Brother," as the words, "Do you still believe in love? I wonder," echoed through the final hours of the opening night of Ultra 2015.
There was also a fireworks finale. And then Avicii said goodbye in a shaky voice.
"I love you, Miami. This was the best year so far. Thank you so much."