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Review: Tiesto in Concert
A vapid exercise in tedium and tasteless idolatry
It's interesting to note that at one time rock n roll was considered dance music. The teenage parties and sock-hops of the 50s consisted mostly of open dance floors and eager, kinetic people frolicking about. They were social institutions first and foremost, where the aim was to have fun with your friends and share in the music that you all enjoy. Going for the party.
But as time went on, rock became less and less of a dance music medium. The performer, through appropriate marketing, became more important than the music he made, turning into an object of worship that transcended the purpose of the event. Concerts, accordingly, became less and less focused on the dancing and socializing aspects of the attendees and more about paying homage to the rock star ingratiating himself on stage, relishing in his status as a living teen god. Going for the rock star.
Dance music and rock music have officially merged
This is the direction that electronic dance music also wants to take, and leading the charge is the bloated Dutch super DJ Tiesto. This DVD, an intimate portrayal of the man in concert, professes to be a landmark event in the history of dance music. The first part is true: This is definitely a concert, and nothing but. It is not a club, not a rave, not even a dance party, and it borderlines on being an actual DJ performance. It is a concert, and Tiesto is a rock star. The second part is unsubstantiated hyperbole. Just what is so groundbreaking here? That they managed to fit 25,000 people inside a club? Is that an attendance record for a DJ set? I seem to remember historic parties like Castlemorton, Glastonbury and the Love Parade having more acclaim than this. For something advertised as "a planetary first", you'd expect things that have never been attempted before by anyone, both technically and artistically. After watching this, I struggled to find reasons why Tiesto is considered a DJ at all, much less the #1 DJ in the world, when it's clear he'd rather be a narcissistic rock star instead.
The concert performance is three hours long. Despite the slick production (the concert is really well done and professional), there really isn't a whole lot to look at. You get the gist of what's going on five minutes in, and then you realize there's more of the same for the next three hours, so it's not necessary to sit and watch the whole thing all the way through. I went to the bathroom four times, cooked and ate two meals, read the paper, and checked my email several times. I didn't miss much. Every time I returned to the TV, the same image was still plastered all over the screen: Tiesto's smug expression celebrating his supremacy over the docile dance masses. Is this the part that is so groundbreaking and revolutionary?
If they removed the DJ stage, they could've fit 5000 more people in there, easily
The performance in a nutshell: a DJ plays music and people dance. He is at least fifty feet away from them, surrounded by gigantic, electric light rods that jettison out from the DJ booth in every direction like a massive power conduit, as if to say that the universe truly does revolve around him. But although the people can't see what he's doing, you can. Tiesto's face gets 99% screen time from every camera, and they pan, zoom, and switch back and forth like a frantic MTV music video. There are occasions on the DVD where you can select alternate camera angles, but those don't seem to make too much of a difference since the perspective keeps changing every few seconds. The bullet-time "Matrix" shots are choppy and rotate about 30 degrees tops. Tiesto himself does about thirty seconds of actual DJing every five minutes. The rest of the time he spends dwelling on his self-importance. He smiles, waves his arms in the air, leaves the booth on several occasions, talks to people, and jumps up and down. Is this the part that is so groundbreaking and revolutionary?
With so much emphasis on the performer, what does the performance have going for it? Well, Tiesto's formula seems structured around playing overbearing super megatrance interspersed with subdued vocal trance. On two occasions we are graced by "live" vocalists, who come out on extended platforms rising above the stage, and they lip-synch solemnly through their lyrics. But it's merely for show. It's as if they're just paying tribute to the songs they did vocals for a long time ago but haven't sang since and haven't had any other part in the production process. Although a nice touch, they didn't really seem to add to the exuberance of the occasion at all. Is this the part that is so groundbreaking and revolutionary?
Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any surprises in Tiesto's performance. The whole set has been carefully crafted together and planned beforehand, much like any concert. The old DJ tactic of encouraging spontaneity in music, of reading the crowd and choosing tracks on the fly have no place here. There are 38 tracks played in all. 13 of those tracks are Tiesto's own. This concert is all about Tiesto, after all, and he revels in every egregious, self-serving minute of it. Halfway through I felt like I was watching a gigantic infomercial selling commercialized Tiesto for your mass consumption. Is this the part that is so groundbreaking and revolutionary?
There is an MC. He is totally and completely unnecessary. He praises Tiesto shamelessly, high-fiving him and cheering on the crowd like an idiot. Halfway through the set he shouts, "This is DJ Tiesto!" Oh! Have we magically forgotten who that is in the middle of the ridiculously huge stage with twirling lightning rods surrounding it? It reminded me of The Beatles performance in Shea Stadium in 1965, where it didn't matter what they played--the people loved it. John Lennon banged on the piano with his elbows like a retarded monkey, and the crowd screamed in approval. Tiesto also possesses this awesome power. He could take a dump on the tables and the people would think it's the greatest song ever. Now, wouldn't that be something truly groundbreaking and revolutionary?
No he's not
On seven occasions Tiesto stops the music entirely. Four of these are extended intermissions (because, you know, how tough it is to mix six tracks in a row), where Tiesto leaves the DJ booth for several minutes while a sideshow plays. This is the gimmick of the concert: each sideshow represents a region of the world, starting with Europe, then America, Asia, Africa, and finishing with Australia. After each sideshow is done, Tiesto returns wearing a new shirt emblazoned with the region. After the America performance, for instance, where bikers, breakdancers, and cheerleaders all shuffle around to Jimi Hendrix' rendition of the Star-spangled Banner at Woodstock, Tiesto emerges brandishing a baseball T with the infamous "I (heart) NY" logo. But there is no cohesive theme to any of this, and in hindsight it seems rather pointless. Tiesto's music doesn't have anything to do with the region he's conquering. After the Asia sideshow, I expected Tiesto to start playing music with Asian influences. There was none. The music is still the same Euro trance all the way through. So why bother with the gimmicks at all, if they have nothing to do with the concert? What is the point of all these stoppages, except to save Tiesto from doing too much mixing?
Probably the most insulting moment of the intermissions, however, is the Africa sideshow. It features a real band playing real instruments, with drums, congas, bass guitars and soul singers, reflecting the earthy, organic tribal atmosphere of African culture, but half of the sound is completely killed off. Next to the booming trance music of Tiesto, with its mammoth subs and surround sound systems, the Africa performance sounds positively lame. I'm not sure if that's a deliberate affront to the band or not, but it seems as if the concert organizers want to make the statement that live music can't sound as good as pre-recorded music. Or maybe they do not want actual musicians outshining Tiesto in his element. At any rate, the way the levels are set forced me to turn up the volume in order to hear the band. Is this a DVD flaw, or is Tiesto the only thing that matters here?
There is a second DVD, but all it has is more Tiesto. Tiesto extras, Tiesto music videos, Tiesto commercials. It is mostly redundant filler, not even worth a go-through once.
The benchmark of true skill and craftsmanship in any endeavor is seeing what impact it has on someone completely foreign to the whole profession. I don't know much about world class gymnasts, but I can at least appreciate and respect what they do, for it is a level of competence few can achieve. When it comes to DJing, however, especially DJing in the manner that Tiesto does, there is nothing there. The whole experience is empty, superfluous fluff. About as filling as cotton candy. But maybe that's just my bias. So I passed the DVD on to a friend of mine who knew nothing about electronic music and even less about DJs to see if he can acquire an impartial appreciation for the #1 DJ in the world, and he returned with this honest response: "I don't get it. What's he doing that's so great? He's playing music, right? ....So what."
Indeed. So what? So what has Tiesto got going for him?
Well, he's famous. And he's famous for being famous. And that seems to be the strength of his PR machine. Do people really go for the music anymore, or do they need the aimless hype of glorified jukeboxes to tell them what music is good? If someone else had played Tiesto's exact set, would they receive just as much praise, or would they be ignored because they're not Tiesto? If a shower curtain were draped around the decks, would people even be able to tell it was Tiesto playing? What is the value of a DJ when he doesn't even have to play records in order to be revered now?
Tiesto is not a DJ. He is an attention whore who has done a really good job marketing himself as a DJ. He is a businessman selling himself as a DJ. He is a rock star under the guise of a DJ. But he is not a DJ.
Buy this DVD only if you really really really like Tiesto. Don't buy this DVD if you really really really like trance.