Girl Talk comes to Vail Saturday for the Burton U.S. Open
VAIL — Gregg Gillis prepares for his Girl Talk shows the way some people train for a half marathon: by running, or jumping rope when it’s too cold to get outside and jog, like the single digits it was in Pittsburgh the week we talked to him.
“My new thing, when it’s this cold, is I jump rope in my kitchen for as long as I can,” Gillis said. “I’ve been doing it until I’m exhausted. I listen to music and bounce around and try to stick to a beat.”
On stage, he’s frenetic: jumping and bouncing around.
“I could never sit around in my house and perform — I can’t do that outside of the context of a show,” he said. “It feels surreal and weird. Jumping rope is a close alternative.”
Gillis performs in Vail for the first time tonight as part of the Burton U.S. Open. The concert is free. Moon Hooch kicks things off after the awards ceremony, which takes place at 6:30 p.m., followed by Girl Talk.
‘LOSE TOTAL CONTROL’
While Gillis didn’t invent the mashup, he’s mastered the art form and undoubtedly elevated it. He samples, loops and blends popular, top-40 songs into entirely new creations. You might hear Jay-Z, M.I.A., The Doors, The Ramones, Missy Elliott, The Beastie Boys, Miley Cyrus, Radiohead, Lady Gaga, 50 Cent, U2, LL Cool J and De La Soul all in the course of a few minutes. It’s densely layered and meticulously composed, which makes the fact that it’s triggered live even more impressive.
Over the phone, Gillis sounds restrained, articulate, highly intelligent and, well, mild. Basically more like the biomedical engineer he was trained to be than someone who has the ability to get thousands of sweaty fans throbbing together in a dark room, completely lost in the music while leaf blowers spread confetti and rolls of toilet paper spiral, suddenly majestic, over the scene.
“I don’t behave that way in any other aspect of my life,” Gillis said. “I try to lose total control of myself and go off.”
Even though he’s been selling out shows for close to a decade, Gillis hasn’t slowed down. Sometimes he dances so hard, he vomits afterward. He bandages his feet before shows to protect them from the constant jumping.
“I do think if it gets to point where I couldn’t do that or I didn’t want to do that, I wouldn’t perform,” he said.
Because really that’s the point for Gillis: “It’s rooted in my history of being on stage with bands and wanting this to be a performance like a band. That’s been the heart of the project,” he said.
‘THE VIBE’: PEOPLE AND PROPS
Along with the physical props, the other traditional part of a Girl Talk show is the fans who dance on stage while Gillis performs.
“It makes it a lot more fun for me,” he said. “The people and the physical props make the environment and make the vibe we’re going for. The people who come out to see me live expect that environment.”
Up until 2009, Girl Talk’s stage manager would ask the venue to remove the barriers and let anyone on stage. But then it got to where close to half the shows were ending prematurely, after someone threw up on the computer or a cord was ripped out of from where it belonged. It was a slippery slope between “fun and chaotic and dangerous and now it’s ruining the experience,” he said.
These days, fans still get on stage, but it’s more organized. Someone from Gillis’s crew chooses a group of people about 15 minutes before the show and shows them where they can go on stage and where they can’t. Like Gillis trains for a show, some fans have trained in order to get on stage. They recognize the rotating crew members and tend to end up on stage, dancing next to Gillis, at multiple shows.
“A lot of the hardcore fans know how to do it,” he said. “To me, they’re the No. 1 fans. They know whenever I’m playing something new. If I could have them on stage every night, I would. They’re really crazy.”
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