Concert review: Girl Talk and The Fray at Festival on the Border in Fort Smith, Sept. 10

September 11th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Girl Talk. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

Let me tell you this: I’d hate to be on cleanup duty for the Festival on the Border.

Specifically, I’d hate to clean up after the evening’s headliner, Girl Talk, was done with the crowd of about 4,000 who gathered for the inaugural festival, which began Friday (Sept. 9) night at Harry E. Kelley Park and moved last night (Sept. 10) to the Campus Green on the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith campus.

Here’s why: During the Pittsburgh artist’s 70-minute, manic set, he dropped sackfuls of confetti, delivered via a pair of cannons on the sides of the stage. There were also the mountains of toilet paper that were blasted into the direction of the crowd. This also says nothing of the balloons, glow sticks and other accessories that became part of the event.

It’s hard to define Girl Talk; it’s perhaps even more difficult to review him on a critical level.

Girl Talk fans

The artist (real name Gregg Gillis) takes fragments of pre-existing songs and loops them or smashes them together at the same time. It’s a disparate event, as he might play, as he started the night off with, a mix of Black Sabbath and Ludacris at the same moment.

Live, it comes off in much the same way it does on his albums: lots of surprise moments, moments of mania followed by brief respites in tempo and energy.

It is that energy that remains the most remarkable element of a Girl Talk concert. He began the evening in what has become his trademark attire — a pair of sweatpants, a white T-shirt and a headband. He ended the night sans shirt and caked in sweat. For someone who does little more than push buttons on a computer, he sure looked to be working hard.

The crowd was sweating too. It was a cool evening in the River Valley, but many men in my vicinity had shucked their shirts. It was a product of the intense dancing inspired by Girl Talk, who also rarely stopped moving. Essentially, what Girl Talk has done is take Top 40 club hits and transported the party to festivals across the county. Say what you want about Girl Talk’s methods and use of samples (The Fray’s Isaac Slade, in introducing Girl Talk, said “I think what he does is illegal, but I love it”), the fever pitch of dancing last night and at other Girl Talk shows is rarely rivaled in contemporary. How that happens, exactly, remains a point of debate. Girl Talk certainly isn’t the first artist to stand on a table, play songs that everybody recognizes and encourage people to dance. Nor is he the first to dump party favors such as confetti and balloons on a crowd. Why, then, was that party so much fun last night? That secret might be stored somewhere in Gillis’ laptop. After watching it firsthand, I can tell you the phenomenon of Girl Talk isn’t one that’s soon to fade.

The Fray

The Fray, after middling returns on their post-“How to Save a Life” success, seem to also be making plans to stick around, too.

The Colorado-based group debuted three songs from an album lead singer Isaac Slade told the crowd would debut in January or February. The crowd responded warmly to those tracks, particularly “Here We Are,” a tale about two lovers intertwining. The Fray tell piano-based songs of love and hope, much in the style of British counterparts such as Keane and Coldplay. That formula failed them a bit on “Little House,” during which Slade — in the tradition of such groups — used a falsetto that missed the mark. Don’t take that as a deep dig at Slade’s voice. It was, for the bulk of the night, an emotive and powerful tool. This song just seemed out of place.

The rest of it found appreciation from the crowd. The Fray’s down tempo, sometimes solemn rock still evokes strong responses.

Which can be said about the festival as a whole – it too generated a strong response. For its first effort, the festival is to be commended, booking both county staples (we’re told about 8,000 showed up for Friday’s event with Dierks Bentley and Randy Rogers Band) and pop acts who have yet to play in this market. I can’t speak for Friday night’s setup, but the stage aesthetics were strong on Saturday. The Campus Green made for a pretty place to have a concert.

Here’s to hoping for future success for Festival on the Border.

Girl Talk setlist: Um, what didn’t he play? I heard Black Sabbath, The Ramones and Beck… in the first 10 minutes of the show. One of his closing efforts was a sequence containing the Isley Brothers song “Shout,” although this telling was much more in line with Otis Day and the Knights version from “Animal House.”

Isaac Slade of The Fray

The Fray setlist: 1) Oceans Away [I think that’s the song, anyway…]; 2) Over My Head (Cable Car); 3) Absolute; 4) All at Once; 5) Syndicate; 6) You Found Me; 7) Here We Are [a new song]; 8) We Build Then We Break; 9) Never Say Never; 10) Little House; 11) Burning [a new song]; 12) Look After You; 13) Run For Your Life [a new song]; 14) How to Save a Life

Others: I didn’t catch any of the sets by Boom! Kinetic or Andy Grammer, who opened the evening. Anyone have any thoughts?