Live review: Avicii at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

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Outside the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Friday, just before the Swedish producer/DJ Aviciiperformed the first of his three concerts this weekend, a guy passed out on the lawn. The fellow looked to be in his mid-20s, buffed with protein-supplement shakes and so annihilated that he flitted around the front yard like a little fratty hummingbird searching for sugar water (or tequila). Three police officers chased him before he finally collapsed in a leaden pile right in front of several thousand people waiting in the ticketing line.

This obviously had nothing to do with Avicii or the venue (which wasn’t even serving alcohol – go figure), and it could have been a weekend warrior after a vigorous happy hour by the Pier. But as the cops dragged him out of sight, one couldn’t help but wonder – is EDM headed for a similar hangover?

Avicii was supposed to be the warning case in the dance-music business. The 23-year-old Tim Bergling had a monster hit in the Etta James-sampling “Le7els” (you know it, or its Flo Rida pop incarnation – “Whoa, oh, sometimes I get a good feeling”), and was quickly pitched as the genre’s next arena-filling star on his 2012 summer tour. But as guests exhaustively mentioned at the recent EDMBiz conference in Las Vegas, he had to reschedule, downsize or cancel a huge swath of that tour. Bergling and management blamed production-logistics reasons; jaundiced concert-biz vets alluded to underwhelming ticket sales. Doomsayers said arena-sized solo EDM shows were the entertainment world’s subprime mortgage bonds.


Friday’s set was the marquee night of the most gulp-inducing tour in the dance music business. But if its turnout and enthusiasm was any barometer of Avicii’s future, he can rest easier.

The ice-blonde Bergling is a natural star in the EDM world – young enough to be the face of a new Ralph Lauren campaign, but old enough to pace a song and prioritize melody over pure 4/4 bluster. Wintery imagery doesn’t really describe this Nordic artist’s music, though. While his synths can have a chilly, scintillant quality, his songs more often crib from sweaty Motown-inspired vocals, and his live sets are far more aggressive than his singles alone suggest.

Friday night’s sold-out set was a showcase for the deep catalog he’s accrued outside of the reputation-making “Le7els.” Barely visible atop a monolithic human head and wavy LED screens, Bergling used shout-along cuts like “Fade Into Darkness” and “Sunshine”(his David Guetta collab which generously nibbled from Florence & the Machine’s “Spectrum”) as fizzy ballast for some unexpectedly joint-cracking hard house interludes.

He’s taken guff for being sonically monochromatic, but he socked that criticism in the mouth at this show. His nearly three-hour set came with an implicit acknowledgement that he has something to prove.

Much has been made of his new visual apparatus, a 3D-mapped, LED-and-projection stage platform at the forefront of EDM visuals. The sensory assault almost contrasted with the music at times – Avicii’s songs are more tactful then most, and would have benefited more from visual mystery that a retina-strafing-run of lights. And no one has really figured out what to do with the actual DJ onstage at solo EDM shows of this caliber. There is a tradition of the DJ as party-overseer and not a star, but when you’re paying fifty-plus bucks for standing room at a solo concert, one wants to see more of the guy than a fist-pumping silhouette.

But speaking of which, Bergling’s new single “Silhouettes” is far and away the finest in his repertoire. It’s crafty and subtly emotional - a pitch-warped vocal assuring the promise of the new, but backed by lonely arpeggios and an odd-timed trance riff just subversive enough for a perked-up raver to want to hear it again, right now.


Bergling played it pretty early in the night, and it juxtaposed nicely with his later tweak of Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child.” Unlike at most EDM sets, Avicii acknowledged there is trouble in the world. But fortunately for the sad fellow heaped on the venue lawn with cops poking him awake, Avicii’s set promised a safe ride home.


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