Last Night: A-Trak, Kid Sister and The Gaslamp Killer at Trees

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A-Trak, Kid Sister, The Gaslamp Killer
April 19, 2011

Better than: a rousing game of DJ Hero.

There weren't any grand entrances at Trees last night. Mostly, there were just transitions.

And, in many regards, that was fitting. This show, after all, was curated by a DJ -- one of the best, actually -- and featured a bill of contemporaries and collaborators keen on seeing his vision come through.

As entertaining as it ended up being, though, the kickoff night of A-Trak's Magic 80-Ball Tour, which featured the Fool's Gold Records head, Chicago rapper Kid Sister and glitch/dubstep DJ The Gaslamp Killer, started off fairly slowly. Only a handful of showgoers arrived early at Trees as local DJs warmed the room.

Perhaps the late-arrivers knew something the rest of the crowd didn't -- that The Gaslamp Killer, who was set to get the official portion of the night started, was running late, his flight held up because of hail concerns at area airports. It wasn't until after 10:30 p.m. when his set got started. And, at this point, he faced an uphill battle: Much of the crowd was distracted, camped out by the venue's televisions and watching the Dallas Mavericks slug it out in their NBA Playoff match-up against the Portland Trailblazers; only a handful of attendees were parked by the stage. As the hometown team increased its lead over their foe, though, Gaslamp's conditions improved; he and the crowd, which by now was increasing in size, settled in, and the DJ moved away from his early dubstep-heavy offerings, focusing instead on crowd-pleasers -- Beatles songs, hip-hop classics and hip-hop classics again, the latter tossed through a tinny MIDI filter. And Gaslamp's antics -- pretending to control his turntables from invisible marionette strings, annoyingly singing the hooks to the songs he was playing through his microphone, repeatedly shouting out his friend's new album's recent iTunes release -- worked, aggravating as they may have been. They grabbed the crowd's attention, and his song selection and scratch abilities retained it.

For the rest of the night -- the Mavs game now over -- the on-stage performers kept it. Joined by her own DJ, Kid Sister, the lone performer to spend any time in front of the turntables set up on stage, shimmied on stage to showcase her electronic hip-hop offerings. In all, her high-energy set was short -- less than 10 songs in total, filled as much with hype and shouts of "Swag!" as actual rapping -- but enjoyable.

Most importantly, it set the table well for A-Trak, who performed in a custom-built, wooden booth shaped in the form of a giant "A" and adorned with lights all around. After sets of glitch, dub, and electronic hip-hop, A-Trak's mostly house-heavy song selections washed over the crowd almost soothingly; his teases of hip-hop tracks went over well, too.

And, over the course of his performance, A-Trak, defying the conventional wisdom of naysayers, provided a visual spectacle to go with it -- and not just because of the giant set-up he played in. For almost half of his life at this point, the 29-year-old tastemaker has been a champion turntablist. It showed, too, as he scratched new beats into existence on his turntables, and complemented well the crowd's wants, surprising them with his alterations, but never throwing their dance pace off.

His set was a turntablism clinic. His face was stoic, but his body movements were furious. His hands whirred over his set-up not with blazing speed, but with a reassuring calm. He climbed onto his set-up and never missed a scratch or beat in the process. And he did so without having to do the expected; only once, toward the very end of his almost 90-minute offering, did A-Trak offer up a song he'd helped create, playing his unavoidable Duck Sauce hit, "Barbra Streisand."

A couple songs later, the music came to a stop and the house lights came on. A-Trak, quietly, thanked the crowd, waved and walked off. The venue's closing time had come -- and, for the large number of folks still dancing away throughout, it came too soon. The night had ended.

It was the only awkward transition of the night, really.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I like the nightlife. I like to boogie.

Random Note: Kid Sister talked the heat in Texas and whined a little about the venue being warm. And yet she kept her leather jacket on. Swag?

By The Way: I'll say it again. Bring earplugs when you see shows at Trees. That sound system is ridiculous.

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