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REACTION NYE w/Purity Ring & Skrillex

Reaction NYE w/Purity Ring & Skrillex
Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
When: December 31st, 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed and Photographed by: Neil Miller, Jr.

To ring in the New Year, it seemed apt to go hard or go home – the latter of which is what I normally choose to do every year.  Of all the events happening around Chicago, React Presents’ Reaction NYE event seemed the most appealing.  With a diverse lineup teeming with great artists like Purity Ring, Skrillex, and Chicago’s own Autograf, it made sense to check out what was happening in Rosemont on this special evening.  When held up against the other options Chicagoans had for NYE plans, this certainly ended up as the place to be to bring in 2016.

With the overwhelming amount of performances you could catch at Reaction NYE on 12/31, let’s keep this straight to the point: the highlight of the evening wasn’t the Skrillex performance at midnight as expected.  Instead, the highlight of the evening was Purity Ring’s profoundly impactful show.  I half-expected them to do a ‘festival set’ – 10 songs/45 minutes.  Instead, we were treated to the duo’s full set, save for one or two tunes that have been staples in their set (off the top of my head, we didn’t get “Stillness In Woe” from Another Eternity).  This being my fourth time seeing Purity Ring, I was just as excited as the first time because I hadn’t seen them tour behind the new album yet.  Put simply, my mind was blown.

It would be an easy feat to talk about Purity Ring’s visual setup for 1000 words – it’s absolutely mesmerizing.  They’ve evolved their show into something drastically more expressive and immersive than their last visual rig…and that says a lot because their old visual arrangement was quite a sight to see in itself.  Performing beneath strings of lights that react to everything you hear, Corin and Megan each interacted with their stage in different ways.  Corin performs the majority of all melodies on a percussive set of ‘cocoons’ that both trigger sounds and explode with light when hit, helping to create a truly live experience.  Megan would walk through and tug on the various strings of lighting hanging from above as she’d belt out her flawless vocals.  Normally, though, she has a more involved position in the lighting during the performance of “Sea Castle” in which she manipulates light across the audience with a pair of reflective gloves.  Although we got to hear the song tonight, they didn’t have that stage of the performance for this evening but it hardly detracted from the rest of the set.

Having seen Purity Ring more than a few times at this point, there were obviously songs that I had to hear.  “Belispeak” was easily my favorite cut in their set if only because of the alternate intro they used to lead into the 2011 single.  Another Eternity’s “Flood on the Floor” was an extra highlight and the crowd seemed to reflect that sentiment as it inspired the most movement out of the mostly EDM-centric audience.  This begs mentioning that the people in attendance beyond the first few rows seemed to have no idea how to ‘dance’ to Purity Ring.  It’s bewildering enough to me that Purity Ring would turn up on such an EDM-dominated lineup – aside from Joker, they may be the only 4AD artist to accomplish such a feat.  In spite of their sticking out like a sore thumb on the lineup, they ultimately seemed to win everyone over by the closing seconds of “Begin Again.”  Of all the times I’d seen Purity Ring before, they were in prime form for this show.  Megan especially seemed to be a lot more involved than I’m used to.  Every other time I’ve seen the duo, she seemed to shy away from moving around the stage too much so watching her dance and physically react to the music undoubtedly helped contribute to how absorbing the show was.  It would be hard for the subsequent artists to top what Purity Ring did and really, no one accomplished that lofty goal.

As many times as I’ve seen Purity Ring, I’ve seen Skrillex twice as many times.  So for a New Year’s Eve set at midnight, the bar was set extraordinarily high.  I’m a huge fan of Mr. Sonny Moore and not solely because of his production, but because his live show has never disappointed me.  Whether if I’m seeing Skrill do one of his Mothership shows or if he’s spinning tunes on a few decks resting on a table, you can usually tell that he’s mixing live and it makes for a very unique electronic music experience.  Tonight, what is usually an attractive element of his show wound up being the one detrimental factor to the set.  The first gripe I have is in reference to song selection.  You can always be guaranteed to hear a handful of setlist mainstays consisting of his own music which gets interspersed with whatever else he feels like playing out.  But god damn it, I don’t think we need to still be hearing his remix of Avicii’s “Levels,” do we?  It sounds just as trite as if he were to play his remix of Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” – hell, it’d be MORE exciting to hear that than something people are hardly interested in anymore.  Maybe some folks can look past this, but electronic music has progressed quite a bit since “Levels” released in 2011 and it sounded horribly dated in the middle of everything else Skrill threw into his mix. 

Another complaint I had is that Skrillex seemed to not be focusing on transitioning between songs much at all.  More often than not, he would drop a song back-to-back without any logical transition whatsoever.  It reminded me more of a hip-hop DJ set than a Skrillex show.  For instance, when he haphazardly stopped a banger to randomly play Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” it came across as amateurish and immature as opposed to the kitschy effect he was probably going for.

The last issue I had with Moore’s midnight set is the same one even his most devoted fans complain about – LEAVE THE MIC ALONE.  There’s a fine line between interacting with your audience and over-embracing them and he briskly sailed past the point of tolerable banter this evening.  When so much of the music you’re playing relies heavily on ‘the drop,’ talking to the crowd 10 seconds after said drop drastically reduces the impact.  Aside from these grievances, I still appreciated what he was doing because even at his worst, he still commands the audience unlike any of his contemporaries.  He’s not the biggest ‘EDM’ artist for no reason – everything he does is tactfully executed and the fans worship his every breath.  But everyone has a bad show once in a while and unfortunately, Reaction NYE was not one of the superstar’s high points.  Still, the night was a fulfilling event chock full of great music and memorable performances, all spread across a wonderful three room “warehouse”-like setup.  Here’s hoping that next year brings even bigger and better things for React Presents’ Reaction NYE spectacle…Happy New Year, readers!

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