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Live Review: DeadMau5 at Navy Pier

| February 10, 2020


Deadmau5 “Cube V3”

Saturday, February 1

Navy Pier, Chicago

From 2008 to 2015, Joel Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5, was the inescapable force in the world of electronic dance music, one of the most prominent and most easily recognizable names in the genre, putting out albums like Album Title Goes Here and While(1<2).  To many people, he is the only name that matters in electronic music, though lately, I had been wondering whether his reign over the EDM world was still as strong as it used to be. I wasn’t as impressed with some of the newer material he has released, including a series of three EPs called Mau5ville that contained a couple of good tracks, but for the most part, felt like a contractual obligation that he didn’t have his heart into. He released the soundtrack to the Netflix film Polar, featuring tracks he had previously released years ago. And then there was a series of singles to promote this particular tour,  “SATRN” and “COASTED,” which were kind of dull and felt like a rehash of stuff he’d already done better in previous years. But despite my lack of enthusiasm for his most recent material, he was the kind of name that no matter what I thought of his studio work, I had a feeling it would all be amazing in a live setting.

It turns out he did not disappoint. His live show was incredible, and seeing him reminded me of why he is still considered such a relevant name in EDM. Thousands of people surrounded me on Navy Pier, some who had brought their Mau5-head masks to wear over their heads, including a guy wearing a pink hoodie with Deadmau5 logos all over it and two round ears plastered on top. The Festival Hall, which feels like its an entire a city block long, was packed to the brim with people. The majority of the crowd appeared to be in their mid-20s, although I did see a few older guys in the audience who looked like they were dragged to the show by their sons or daughters. It reminded me of the time I dragged my father to a Pretty Lights concert back in 2014, and I suppose he found the experience – interesting?

BlackGummy and Getter opened the show, but everyone was waiting for the main attraction. We could see a three-screened Cube flashing various “Fun Deadmau5 Facts!” most of which sounded like they were written by Joel himself and resembled his crude jokes and Twitter feed circa 2017 (although he hasn’t been on Twitter much these days, boy did he put his personality out there). Fun facts saying things like “Pidgeons cant fart” (misspellings included) and “Connor gets fired three times a week” and “I’ll probably play ghosts n stuff” (which elicited some pretty loud cheering) and “Coming up with fun facts is hard who actually cares about these.”  Some of the fun facts were a bit more serious and grammatically correct, including giving the technical specs of his Cubes, and how it takes his team eight hours to set it all up for each concert. But you know, it sounded like he was having fun.

When Deadma5 finally began, I was standing 30 feet away from the speakers that were blasting away, and I could feel every bass note resonating through my entire body like I was in an earthquake. And I’ve been to quite a few EDM shows, and they’re always very loud, but this is one of the loudest I’ve seen but in a positive way. Deadmau5 last performed in Chicago at the North Coast Music Fest 2017, and this guy still knows how to make thousands of people want to dance. And he also thankfully stuck mostly to his older tried-and-true material, with big recognizable fan favorites like “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” and “Avaritia” and “Cthulhu Sleeps” and “Imaginary Friends,” mashing up some old tracks in ways I didn’t expect.  He combined the songs “I Remember” and “FML,” which sound nothing alike, into a surprising mix that works amazingly well together. The light show was incredible as well, and he had the rotating Cube that he sat inside but also a curved screen behind him and 20 rows of flashing lights on either side, which was pretty intense in person. He brought out guest singer LIGHTS to sing “Raise Your Weapon” and “Drama Free,” two songs that are also nothing alike and show she has quite a bit of range as a singer. I admittedly did start to tap out near the end of the show, funnily enough around the time he started playing his newer material, but after he played his classic set closer “Strobe,” and encores “Monophobia and “Bridged by a Lightwave.”

Deadmau5 is someone I would recommend seeing live if you have the chance, especially if you have nostalgia for the era where he was at his peak. And even if you don’t, he’s such a cultural watermark in the world of EDM that it is worth the experience. Speaking as a DJ, the show was visually interesting enough to keep the audience engaged. Seeing Zimmerman made me feel like it was 2014 all over again in the best possible way.

– Tommy Kaempfer

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