Better Than: Being able to hear for the rest of the weekend.
If Friday night’s Swedish House Mafia show were a short film, it would open on the scene where I’m in a stall in the men’s room, surrounded by screaming, rolling 18 year olds, knocking back a shooter of Bushmill’s and wondering what turn my life took to bring me to this point. Since this is, in fact, a blog post, I’ll offer a more straightforward introduction.
The Swedish House Mafia formed in 2008 when DJs Axwell, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso decided they’d be better off working as a trio. Five years later, they are bigger than anyone could have imagined. Crossing the globe for a final time, they are in the process of playing five New York City shows, one at the Hammerstein Ballroom, one at Madison Square Garden, then three in a row at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Although they are nominally a house group, many are calling their wave of dance artists the new punk. Meanwhile, their last single, “Don’t You Worry Child,” is an ambitious power ballad worthy of hair metal, and when critics accuse them of selling out, of making their hooks obvious and their fans stupid, that only means they’re playing pop music and playing it the way it’s supposed to played.
Having seen that Madison Square Garden show, I can confirm both the size of the hooks and the stupidity of the fans, or at least the stupidity of the one who entered the arena by his lonesome, expecting to get through the night armed with only a notebook and a dollar-fifty bottle of booze. Actually, it was a pretty good time. Pete Tong opened with a set highlighted, as it turned out, by a SHM song (Axwell’s remix of Ivan Gough and Feenixpawl’s “In My Mind”) that didn’t make it into the headliners’ two hour set, and Armand van Helden followed by moving from bass-heavy EDM tunes into some Baauer, R.L. Grimes’ “Satisfaction” remix, and ultimately, oddly, his own “Witch Docktor,” a track older than at least a quarter of the crowd.
After a 25 minute build-up, SHM finally arrived. The music started and a curtain dropped, revealing them not behind a DJ booth but standing side by side by side at the front of the stage. Upon closer inspection, there wasn’t even a DJ booth, as if the spectacle would cease to exist if the mechanics behind it were revealed. Around this time, I took down my first and last note, making sure to remember that the group, working months worth of anticipation and a captured audience, was using silence more than any other dance act I’ve seen. Usually it’s a joke at these shows — these people really think that a DJ is going to come out for at encore. On Friday, it actually happened. Then it happened again.
In between, the group played every track they could be expected to play. The two story box of flashing lights turned out to contain turntables, a mixer, and a couple drums that mafioso not busy with the other two would occasionally hit. Normally, I’d tell you what tracks proved biggest, but really they all did. “Greyhound,” “One,” “Leave the World Behind,” a remix of a Coldplay song and an extended mix of something they produced for Usher, all provoked a huge response. “Atom” by Nari & Milani is a hard song, but on Friday it was cool down music.
After the encores, the “Don’t You Worry Child,” the flames, confetti, balloons, and fireworks, the show ended with another “Don’t You Worry Child” and a message to the fans. “You came, you raved, we loved it,” read the box of lights. Veneritis, tripudivistis, amavimus. It doesn’t have the same ring as “Veni, vidi, vici,” but I guess “we conquered” would have been, for once, too obvious.
Critical bias: I’m not saying I tried to be the only person in the crowd wearing a tan button up, I’m saying it just kind of happened.