Paul Oakenfold, who headlined the Ogden Theatre last night, has been spinning steadily to crowds around the world since the late 1980s. He has quite a track record, having founded the Perfecto imprint in 1989, the responsible for bring the world BT, David Guetta, Kenneth Thomas, Infected Mushroom and Timo Maas. He's also been nominated for Grammys and remixed songs for Madonna and U2.
Now, despite his vast history and accomplishments -- his tracks "Ready, Steady, Go" and "Starry Eyed Surprise" from the 2000 album, Bunkka, were both club anthems for a generation, and currently, he is on year three of his Perfecto residency in Las Vegas -- Oakenfold hasn't had the most favorable press in recent years. Some believe he's getting a little long in the tooth. Dance music trends move so fast that any DJ is hard pressed to keep up -- Oakenfold is no exception.
His shows have always been a toss-up without any discernible pattern. He is regarded as a godfather of my favorite music genre so I expect to be blown out of my seat by his sets, yet I always leave feeling I missed him at his best a decade ago. However, I'm a sucker for surprise redemption and second chances so off to the show I go.
Warming up the night was Zen Freeman -- a DJ with residencies in both L.A. and Las Vegas. Attempting to draw in the crowd, he served up rock mash-ups using tracks including Phoenix "1901" and Kings of Leon "Sex on Fire," which worked fine until he tried to mix them. The ability to beat match seemed to elude him just as surely as the skill to build a set -- especially paving the way for a DJ like Oakenfold to take the decks.
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Freeman played two of my favorite all-time dance tracks (Robin S "Show Me Love" and Eric Prydz "Proper Education") but still stalled and snagged transitioning. Folks would get into a tune and then get smacked upside the head by the poor mix. Zen managed to get things a bit more on track towards the end of his set - pulling out more electronica and giving Oakenfold a lukewarm rather than cold platform to start with. Around midnight, with the crowd chanting "we want Paul!" Oakenfold finally (thankfully) stepped up to the decks. Like a breath of fresh air, the opening chords struck and the crowd came to full attention for the first time all night. Good, progressive trance came out of those speakers heralding a set I hadn't heard him spin in years if ever.
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The music selection included female vocals more pretty than operatic sounding - perfect to blend in as lows to the reverbing bass that served as the highs. His teasing remix in and out of the Red Hot Chili Pepper's "The Other Side" showed exactly what nearly two decades of spinning can teach you about playing to the people and keeping them moving.
Towards the end, the energy did start to lag and the crowd was dispersing early but I got what I came for - a surprisingly good set out of a legendary DJ I'd given up hope on long ago. This set, while not my exact cup of dance tea, did illustrate better for me why Paul Oakenfold appeals to so many EDM fans.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: A house and techno head, Goa-style trance isn't my thing but I can appreciate it when done correctly. Random Detail: The crowd was older in age bracket - enough that the amount of glow-stuff was minimal. No whacking in the face from sticks on strings or getting nailed in the head as they sail through the air was a bonus! By the Way: Mr. Freeman - DIA called. Evidently, they found your bag of mixing skills in the lost luggage bin. Feel free to pick them up before your next gig.