As an avid live music attendee, the list of restricted items for any particular show is extremely easy to gloss over. Within the EDM community, thanks to vague rave ordinances, promoters generally add special restrictions for glowsticks and laser pointers, but for Bassnectar‘s weekend run at Chicago’s Congress Theater there was one special line under the “Can Bring” heading that deserved a double-take: Reasonable amount of inflatable toys. That single line helped shed light on the unique vibe that follows Bassnectar around the globe, including his current lengthy Vava Voom Tour.
To aid in handling that rule and a laundry list of other restricted items, plus to help contain his live set’s palpable hysteria, the producer (real name Lorin Ashton) brought along his team of “amBASSadors”. The inclusion wasn’t a slight at the already (over)vigilant Congress crew, but a testament to Ashton’s desire to create a sense of family and terrestrial appreciation through his bass-heavy “omnitempo” live sets.
Minneapolis’ Mr. Projectile (real name Matthew Arnold) opened the night with a selection of minimal-techno and acid-house tracks. Performed in the city that gave birth to seminal acid-house producers, both Arnold’s stage presence and track selection seemed more suited for a dark basement space than the towering hall of the Congress. The set tested the venue’s acoustics early, dropping Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” and blasting the audience with the track’s low-frequency resonance. With the additional subs provided by Bassnectar, the sound was tremendously loud, but didn’t cause any ringing that a short breather or water break near the edges of the room couldn’t correct.
Without even a second needed for a stage change over, Colorado’s Aaron Holstein (bka VibeSquaD) was behind his laptop and controller for a wubbly-bubbly crunkadelic dance set. Holstein knows how to build into a drop, but when behind the decks the multi-instrumentalist shies away from Jump Up, using the bass more as a psychedelic ambient mid-tempo pulse to layer hip-hop vocals, bright synth bleeps, and melodic instrumentation. The set was heavy with material from VibeSquaD’s upcoming April 20th EP entitled Orphan Alien Pt. 2, including the funky-bass track “Ruthless Rabbit”, and Holstein went into each track with a broad smile on his face, which helped make up for the indistinguishable sing-along verses. Those will just have to wait until after his new record drops Friday.
Here is a strange factoid: Bassnectar’s Saturday appearance sold out in six hours, a record for his Vava Voom tour. Only one Congress show has ever sold out more quickly, the upcoming June 20th show with Foster The People.
Scheduled to perform for nearly three hours, Ashton was able to work in a broad selection of tracks outside of his recently released full-length. The producer celebrated his kingdom early with “Bass Head”. It wasn’t until the photogs cleared the pit that the visuals took full effect, leaving Ashton to be surrounded by horizontal blanks of LEDs and backed by a screen with continually shifting images, equalizer orbs, and DIY videos. The highlight of the visualizations came during new track “Ping Pong”, when Ashton was set against a barrage of would-be competitors for the table top challenge.
Early in the set Ashton decided to “Cossa Frenzy” before moving into the new single “Vava Voom” featuring Lupe Fiasco. As the set progressed, the “amBASSadors” came out in full force, cooling sweaty dancers down with misters, giving away bottles of water, even offering tiny marshmallows to help with the saw jaw side-effects of the not-so-hidden pharmaceutical side of EDM. Portions of half-time were placed mid-set to recoil into massive, calculated drops, but by varying tempos and rhythms the set was more trippy and cerebral than face-melting.
Following a chilled-out portion of the performance, that included a nostalgic lighter-raising to Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”, Ashton sent a surge through the crowd with his body-quaking remix of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights”. With the crowd at full-throttle, the Bassnectar crew decided it would be a good time to take the nightly family portrait, asking the entire audience to jump for the photo. On the count of three, the at-capacity crowd took to the sky, coming back to earth with one unified thud.
Even after multiple hours of brain-assaulting beats, not more than a few dozen attendees had cleared out following the picture, seemingly hypnotized within the cocoon of sound and light that Bassnectar so pain-stakingly produces everynight. So Bassnectar did the noble thing, and rolled on with his set until the Congress was forced to flip on the house lights, introducing many to the new serene track “Nothing Has Been Broken”. By night’s end, Ashton removed the element of size from the Congress, embracing an unparallelled intimacy with Bassheads old and new.