Chainsmokers light up Sprint Center with percussive dance pop and dazzling visuals
The Chainsmokers hardly live up to their name.
Their music is obviously addictive, at least among a slim demographic — 16 to 24-year-olds (-ish) — but it is hardly toxic or dangerous or lethal.
The Chainsmokers are also very popular. Wednesday night, the duo from New York and Maine drew a rabid crowd of about 11,000 (plus or minus 1K) to the Sprint Center, a significant feat for an act with one album to its name making its first appearance in Kansas City.
And for 10 minutes short of two hours, they unleashed gales and flurries of sights and sounds upon the crowd. The show was a relentless blitzkrieg of spotlights, lasers, fog, flashpots and sparkler showers.
Some of the music was live; much of it wasn’t. None of that mattered to a crowd that seemed ultimately interested in responding to music it recognized, no matter the medium, and conveying its appreciation in many ways: by singing along, by dancing along and by sharing the festive mood via every accessible social media format.
The ’smokers are Alexander Pall, a native of suburban New York, and Andrew Taggart, who was raised in Freeport, Maine. Taggart is the younger of the two and the default lead guy. At least he’s the one who sang lead vocals when the show pivoted from its DJ fashion into a hybrid of live and recorded music.
Taggart (27) and Pall (32) both issue frat-boy personas that suggest the game plan is to present a blend of boy-band allure and Beastie Boy shtick. The air was filled with as many f-bombs as it was with gusts of fog, blasts of flashpots and torrents of streamers and confetti.
The show was entertaining, for the most part. The visuals were deeply rooted in the vocabulary and rituals of the generation raised on smartphones and other electronic gadgets. Like the opening skit: a puerile texting conversation broadcast on the enormous LED screen onstage that led into “The One,” a Chainsmokers hit that has generated nearly 70 million hits on Spotify.
Another skit featured Taggart, onstage and on his phone, simulating a Facetiming episode with Pall, who was apparently backstage sitting on a toilet. Another skit feigned a malfunction with an enormous stage screen that wasn’t supposed to drop when it did, so Taggart filled the time by pretending to tap into Pall’s Spotify playlist (some Biggie Smalls, Papa Roach and A$AP Ferg were played).
And throughout the show, that giant LED screen broadcast primitive bits of animation, including a parade of emojis dancing to or reacting to the accompanying music and lyrics.
The sophomoric skits aside, the show generated plenty of feverish energy and rowdy singalongs. The Chainsmokers’ songs follow a nearly fail-proof formula: accessible, singalong melodies chained to throbbing and heavily percussive rhythms. Even the ballads swing to danceable grooves. It’s all steeped in the rudiments of dance music, pop, rock, hip-hop and, occasionally, pop R&B.
Lyrically, they extol and explore subjects and situations that pertain to their primary demographic. Heartache, romance and sex are main topics, including infidelity and casual sex — songs for the Tinder nation, as in “Honest,” one of several that stirred a loud and widespread singalong: “I don’t need nobody else / But you’re not the only one on my mind.”
As frontmen go, Taggart is a bit of an anomaly. He’s slender and slightly built, and his voice lacks the heft and projection necessary to fill an arena — it’s more suited to indie-rock and small clubs — yet he managed to command the stage for much of the show. His banter was about as substantive as his songs’ lyrics, but that hardly mattered.
The ‘smokers were joined onstage a few times by singer/songwriter Emily Warren, who told the crowd that her mother was from Kansas City and several relatives were in the crowd. Warren is a guest vocalist on a few Chainsmokers hits and they performed some of them, including “Don’t Say,” “My Type” “Paris” and “Don’t Let Me Down.”
Also on the set list: “Inside Out”; “Break Up Every Night,” an anthem with a friends-with-benefits theme (She wants to break up every night / Then tries to (bleep) me back to life / How can I help it if I like the way she makes me feel it?); “Until You Were Gone,” a ballad about post-parting remorse (“I didn’t know how good you were”); and “Bloodstream,” part of which Taggart sang lying on his back on the stage floor.
They closed with “Last Day Alive,” a teen-angst anthem about living each day to its fullest because you never know what the next day will or won’t bring. It’s a brash, locomotive electro-rock anthem with lyrics like “always and forever” and “now or never.” It’s trite but good advice for a band with one full-length album in its catalog that knows how fast life can erupt or dissolve, how it can change, for better or worse.
Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain