9 p.m. Monday-Tuesday
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- Photo by Douglas Steward
- Girl Talk mashes up sounds in live shows.
The success of Gregg Gillis' Girl Talk project can be charted by three New Orleans concerts he's landed over the past three years, each larger than the last: Tulane University in April 2008, Tipitina's in April 2009 and back-to-back nights this week at the House of Blues. In fact, Gillis notes, it's the only measure he has.
"We're not selling records, just giving them away for free," he says of unannounced fifth LP All Day (Illegal Art), left out on the digital doorstep in the middle of the night on Nov. 15. "We lose track of the album download tracking pretty fast, because there's other people hosting it. There's no marketing team, anything like that. The only quantitative gauges of how things are going, if the word is spreading, are the shows. Starting from 2006 on, that's been a similar thing in every city: play one show, next year come back and have a bigger show. It's also how I get to see how people react to different songs, what new material I'm working on that people respond to."
How many ears has All Day reached? Gillis hasn't a clue. With no SoundScan numbers for managers to pore over — no managers, for that matter — the mashup master relies on what amounts to a show-of-hands audience survey. It's the same way he assembles his stitched samples and asylum-like dance parties. Every gig is a focus group: If crowds go crazy when he splices Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and Ludacris' "Move Bitch," he knows he's on to something. (They did, hence All Day's opening salvo.)
That pairing is the first of 373 overlapping snippets that make up Girl Talk's latest pop-music patchwork, an electric quilt of ripped genres and revisionist musical history. Gillis calls it "recontextualization," a fittingly mashed-up word to describe the world's best matchmaker, whose gift — aside from defining the U.S. Copyright Office's doctrine of fair use — is knowing just the right blind date for Peter Gabriel (it's Foxy Brown), or recognizing that all "Hello Good Morning" by Diddy — Dirty Money was missing was a little Bananarama.
Offering the album as a free download sparked more interest than even Gillis anticipated. "It kind of exploded on us," he says. "The interactivity was at an all-time high. You have those Google trend gauges, and the peak for this album was like five times the last one. From there we immediately saw the ticket sales increase, needing to add double venues in some cities and increase venue size in other cities."
As thrilling and memory-jogging as the breathless LP's 70-minute barrage is, the unhinged live shows are something else entirely. Confetti-snowing, toilet-papered mania takes hold, with Gillis and his bank of plastic-wrapped gear in the eye of a swirling sweat storm. "On this new tour, we're a lot bigger production," he says. "For the first time I'm actually touring with lights and a custom software guy to do some visual stuff. I feel like every six months there's another step to take it up. I really want it to keep growing. As the shows pick up in size and the audience gets bigger, I want to go there as well. I want to make it better than the last one, more insane than the last one."