Originally from Santa Cruz, Calif, Lorin Ashton adopted the name Bassnectar in 2002 but had been playing sets of ambient, bass-heavy, genre-bending music for almost a decade before that. A dubstep artist by definition, drum and bass, hip-hop and rock music all clearly influence his sound and are all brought together through pounding bass and trippy transitions. There is talk that Bassnectar, often called "The King of Bass," is on a downswing, but a pair of packed shows at the Pageant, including a sold-out first show on Saturday night suggest otherwise.
Opener Amp Live came onstage with a grizzly bear on his T-shirt and a keytar around his neck and played a set of mostly hip hop and dancehall. A highlight was a remix of "Coastin'," the best known track by Amp Live's known project, hip hop duo Zion I. Together."
Bassnectar casually took the stage at around 9:45 p.m. His clothing was far from a focal point, with his lower half permanently hidden behind his stage set up and his '90s grunge hair seeming to be detached from his torso. I remember thinking at one point that he could really be performing in his underwear, although a quick trip from behind the booth to take a photo with his crowd disproved this theory.
The stage set up was colossal, like a LED-covered boat bookended by pillars of more LED lights and speakers. Behind the booth stood another LED screen that covered the entire backdrop of the stage. Balloons shot out from canons at the front of the crowd, and confetti fell from the sky with one especially prominent bass drop. In terms of production, all that was missing was a fog machine, but the audience took that into its own hands. A layer of smoke floated above the mass of bodies for most of the night.
The LED panels on stage took on multiple roles during the show, sometimes prominent lyrics of the few Bassnectar songs that have prominent lyrics, and other times video clips, usually manipulated and cut to play in track with the beats and drops. There were girls surrounded by explosions of chalk, a clip of some sort of tribal worship ceremony, and lots and lots of brightly colored, geometric patterns.
Bassnectar's 90-minute set of womp included "Wildstyle Method" in the first ten minutes or so and closed with "VooDoo." It's hard to go that in depth into his setlist because so many songs made quick appearances and reappeared later. A search of setlists from earlier shows on this tour included lists that ranged from 20 songs to closer to 60. Most of the tracks he is best known for though, including 2010's "Basshead" and 2012's "Vava Voom," did make appearances, at least for a bit.
The lens used to look at an EDM show differs from a typical concert, because a DJ is not a live band. You look at the light and video show, the pacing and the builds and drops instead of the instrumentation, the vocals or the artist's stage presence. In a way, EDM shows are more like watching a movie than going to a concert. Unless a speaker blows or there's a similar emergency, the show will go smoothly and follow a predetermined path. This, of course, is meant in a positive way, and not meant to mean that all a DJ does is press play, although we all know some do.
The Bassnectar movie is comparable to "Traffic" or "Requiem for a Dream." It's a lot to take in physically. You find yourself taking time to refocus and catch your breath. You can feel the vibrations of the bass, not just right up against the speakers but also 25 or 30 feet back, which is where I was for most of the show. Some shows serve up feasts for your ears, others add in a visual element. Bassnectar involves your whole body.
My primary objection to EDM shows is typically the crowd, sometimes obnoxiously inebriated or dominated by "bros." There was a presence of this on Sunday night at the Pageant, but the show was not dominated by it in the same way Zedd's show at the Pageant a few weeks ago was or Steve Aoki's in November probably will be. There were people who looked like they'd just come from work, a large presence of tie-dye and the age range extended past just people in their teens and 20s.
A scan up at the balcony midway through Bassnectar's set revealed a shirtless Bradley Cooper lookalike, a couple wearing spandex emblazed with logos that I assume biked to the show, and a man with dreadlocks down to his waist who looked like he had been to more than his expected share of Burning Mans in his day. Bassnectar's genre-bending and enduring presence (longer than the lives of some of the EDM hotshots with whom he's now sharing festival headlining spots) in electronic music brought together a varied conglomeration of fans that you rarely get to see at a show of this nature. It was like a little family of sweaty, confetti-covered ravers.