Review: The Chainsmokers mix DJ chops, pop smashes at Amalie Arena in Tampa
So the Chainsmokers played Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Friday night. I’m sure you all have questions. Yes, you in the chunky black glasses.
The Chainsmokers? Those overplayed, bro-tastic New York DJs? Doesn’t everyone hate those guys?
Judging by the reviews of their new album Memories…Do Not Open, yeah, pretty much. They’ve been called populists, opportunists, the Nickelback of EDM and a whole lot worse. To a lot of folks, the Chainsmokers are uncooler than vaping in church.
So no one came, right?
Oh, far from it – more than 11,500 people turned out, and they were all super into it, dancing and screaming from the chilly floor up to the very back row of the nosebleeds. As the woman next to me screamed about a third of the way in: “I GIVE THIS SHOW A 10 OUT OF 10!” Joint was legitimately lit.
The Chainsmokers are the past year’s breakout pop act, that’s how. This was the second date on the biggest tour of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall’s career, and it happened thanks to the seemingly bottomless reservoir of smash singles at their disposal – Roses, Don’t Let Me Down, Something Just Like This, Paris and, smash-‘n’-grabbiest of all, Closer.
“So baby, pull me closer, in the backseat of your Rover…”
Yeah, that’s the one.
So how terrible was it?
Would it surprise you if I said: Not at all?
Look, I get that the Chainsmokers’ frat-party personae and calculated ambition grates on some like nails on a chalkboard. But for more than 90 minutes, they cranked up the volume on those hits and kept the crowd churning in one of the single biggest nights of electronic music Tampa’s ever hosted. Pall and Taggart merged their past as DJs and present as pop stars in a way that felt mostly seamless, chunking the concert into DJ mini-sets and “live” sets with a band.
Let’s break this down. How are they as DJs?
After years of playing gigantic festivals and Vegas bottle-service palaces, they can find their way around a beat. The bass was bigger, the drops deeper, the pace much faster. Here's where they spliced in some of their many guest-assisted singles, including Roses, Setting Fires, Inside Out, Wake Up Alone and Until You Were Gone; along with samples of Daft Punk and Dr. Dre and offbeat crowd-pleasers like Panic! at the Disco’s I Write Sins Not Tragedies. They bounced and leaped and flicked their wrists and waved their arms like conductors, inciting the audience to do the same – you know, typical DJ behavior. This went on all night – a few minutes DJ’ing, a couple of songs with a band, then back to the riser, then back to the band.
And how were they “live?”
Let’s go with “different.” Taggart’s low, flat voice isn’t that of a pop star, not even with whatever magical audio pixie dust the Chainsmokers sprinkled into his mic. When he holds a mic or guitar, he loses a lot of the energy he and Pall have when they’re DJ’ing. And Pall’s role is a little undefined in this setting; he played synth pads and pianos, basically fading into the backing band while Taggart played the frontman.
But it was definitely more satisfying to hear live drums kick in on All We Know, or Emily Warren, a proper singer, come out to perform Don’t Say and My Type. Of the Chainsmokers' 10 or so “live” songs, you can guess which ones hit the hardest – the elliptical earworm Closer, the cool pulse of Paris, the savage Don’t Let Me Down (featuring Taggart briefly plucking an electric guitar). These were the songs to which the crowd knew every word, screaming as the Chainsmokers shot confetti and flame from the stage.
But at least the Chainsmokers behaved like awful people, right?
Sorry, but no. Check this out: Their pianist was a a kid named Tony Ann, who they discovered playing Chainsmokers covers on YouTube and invited on tour (and he was great, lending a little classical class to Closer and Paris). The most controversial thing Taggart said was when he grabbed what looked like a compact MIDI controller for Don’t Say: “I saw on Twitter today, someone said that DJs, they only press play, so I brought this to prove them wrong.”
Oooh! Such a bad boy! Alert TMZ!
They did perform a few interstitial comedy skits involving texting, FaceTime, and one where Taggart pretended to surf through songs on his phone. They also did a little halfhearted choreography on Don’t Let Me Down. All of this can go.
Did they say anything else interesting?
“I'm out here trying to show everyone we’re serious artists,” Taggart said during one of those terrible skits. Maybe it’s working, maybe it’s not; a lot of the world still needs to be convinced. But the way the Chainsmokers are attempting to evolve in public at the height of their fame, right before our eyes, is fascinating to watch nonetheless.
“So baby, pull me closer, in the backseat of your…” Sorry, drifted off there for a second. What were you saying?
Don’t worry about it. Just keep humming those hits. If this tour is any indication, it might not be long before the Chainsmokers win you over, too.
-- Jay Cridlin