If anyone has ever made the argument that DJs are musicians too, it was the trio of Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki (a.k.a. Above & Beyond) this past weekend. They took a vision that was born four years ago in a hot air balloon and made it a reality, live on stage at the historic Greek Theater. The nearly 6,000-seat venue was packed to the brim with a fidgety audience in attendance to witness a spectacle that might not happen again anytime soon, at least according to Grant when he exclaimed, “We don’t know if this will happen again, so thank you!” to an ecstatic Los Angeles crowd. With a 2014 album confirmed to be in the works, it would not be a surprise to see a few downtempo acoustic songs make it on to the final cut (said McGuiness), especially based on how polished their live performances were this weekend.
Backed by a twelve-piece ensemble including a guitarist, bassist, drummer, harpist, trumpet/trombone player, string quartet (two violins, one viola, and one cello) and three outstanding vocalists featuring Zoë Johnston, Above & Beyond delivered a performance unparalleled to anything else they have ever done before. Normally DJ-ing at a rave near you, A&B made a name for themselves in 2000 with their more traditional progressive house and trance dance beats. Though thirteen years later as EDM is hitting its stride in the United States, A&B clearly wanted to take a step back and deliver a one-of-a-kind performance that payed homage to their roots as true musicians, songwriters, and performers.
The Greek’s perfect acoustics in combination with the frigid October air created an intimate setting perfect for the show. Their performance echoed that of a smooth jazz club more than that of the familiar hardcore rave tent. The music was backed by a subtly smooth light show (including confetti at some of the more climactic choruses), which tied in with the music and visuals nicely. With Siljamäki manning a grand piano, McGuiness trading between various guitars, and Jono on the electric keyboard, A&B placed emphasis on creating musical moments. Instead of using a build-up and hard drop type method more akin to their trance-ey roots, they used smooth, sweeping, orchestrated crescendos which grew into fulfilling sultry downtempo beat patterns, featuring soaring vocals over the top.
The audience was out in full force, actively cheering during and after every song, and oftentimes singing along with whichever soloist happened to be blowing them away at that particular time. The acoustic set was filled with mellowed-out versions of some of A&B’s most popular singles including “Can’t Sleep,” “Alone Tonight,” “You Got To Go,” “Love Is Not Enough” (for which they released an acoustic teaser when announcing this show) and “A Thing Called Love.”
The group had some surprises in store for the audience as well. For one, A&B premiered several new songs, one which was entitled “Blue Sky Action” and was said to be inspired by the first half-hour of the Pixar movie WALL-E, according to McGuiness. A little later in the set, McGuiness took to the mic again to say:
“Now normally, this would be the part of our show where we ask an audience member to come up on stage and “push the button.” But last night, this one kid asked if he could come up on stage and play guitar with us, and I really liked his glasses, so I said yes and invited him up on stage to play with us tonight. Please welcome Sunny Moore!”
Sunday’s audience was in for a treat, as none other than Skrillex, another prolific electronic DJ who has his roots in rock and roll, joined the ensemble on stage. Tony sang a bluesier version of “Black Room Boy” with Skrillex rocking out on guitar in front of his hometown crowd.
As the full ensemble left the stage at the end of their set, the audience gave an ovation as if to say they would not be tricked out of an encore. They were right, as the musicians filled back on stage after a few minutes of thunderous applause and cheers. Siljamäki addressed the crowd by saying how important this set of concerts was for them as a group, and that they truly placed an emphasis on songwriting. He went on to say that songwriting could be a rather emotional process for the group, and that playing The Greek Theater “surpassed [their] wildest dreams.” That set the stage for an equally emotional version of “Small Moments,” which McGuiness shed tears throughout while singing the lyrics “Life is made of small moments like these.”
The encore and night were closed out with a stirring rendition of “Sun & Moon,” which was sung in full by the still-standing audience.
All in all, A&B delivered a thoroughly fulfilling and refined showing of musicianship and songwriting at The Greek, while catering to their hardcore fans by playing acoustic renditions of their biggest bangers. There was a little something for everyone, from jazz to hints of EDM to rock to downtempo psychedelic, everything was distinctly acoustic and decidedly tasteful, as Above & Beyond closed out a one-of-a-kind show that may not occur again, at least not anytime in the foreseeable future.