Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell, better known as Swedish House Mafia, brought their breakup party to New York City this week, sharing their particularly virile brand of progressive house with some 60,000 Big Apple revelers across Thursday's Black Tie Rave benefit concert, Friday's Madison Square Garden show and three nights at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
The Black Tie Rave, which benefitted Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts and Save the Children, opened their run with a twist. Attendees -- normally clad in anything from jeans and leather jackets to obscenely neon and skimpy nu-rave wear -- were told to dress up for the occasion. The scene at Hammerstein Ballroom was bizarre -- all the stereotypes that have plagued Swedish House Mafia for years were still represented (over-buffed bros, lots of fist-pumping), but the crowd was indeed a sea of tuxedos and ball gowns. (One guest wearing blue jeans, white sneakers and ironic suspenders appeared to be denied entrance.)
"Look at these two p-----s," Axwell said on the microphone when bandmates Angello and Ingrosso gave into the heat and removed their tux jackets, before asking the audience "what it's like to party in these clothes." The crowd bellowed its self-satisfaction.
In an earlier interview with The Huffington Post, Angello described the group's decision to break up as a way to free themselves from the restrictions of their fan base, which is often derided as having a particularly base understanding of dance music.
"I kind of miss that [DJ'ing] used to be playful," he said. "You could be creative, nobody judged you. Today, it's all judgment ... I think we felt like it had become a very big machine. I think the pressure … It just wasn't having fun anymore. It was this humongous monster."
At both Hammerstein and Sunday's Barclays show, there was one missing element: mixing. The three Swedes tend to play one or two bangers at a time and end each mini-segment (or sometimes just a song) on a single filtered-out basshit, the equivalent of a gunshot bang or broken glass sound at a rap concert. A transition between "Miami 2 Ibiza" and "One" seemed particularly overwrought and bendy, though even that mishap was mitigated by the fact that the DJs were successful in having the audience sing the string of product placements in the first song (never before have so many people shouted "QVC" and "CK briefs" at once) and their strong rework of the latter song.
And yet, there's no doubt the trio is a well-oiled machine. For their One Last Tour, they've added a bit of percussion to their sets, with Ingrosso and Axwell tapping out rhythms as Angello mans the decks.
What they may lack in flow, they make up for in production value. The arena set-up Swedish House Mafia has been using this tour is by far their most impressive -- a stories-high series of LED screens which are given the full compliment of relentless pyrotechnics, fog machines and air cannons. No one smart comes to a dance show of that scale to see inventive turntable work, and those who complain that there isn't enough "live" DJ'ing happening at a Swedish House Mafia concert are just being willfully dense at this point. But come for spectacle, and you won't be disappointed. (It's worth noting that Sunday's crowd belted out the chorus of "Don't You Worry Child" with more vigor than any Garden or Barclays audience this reviewer has seen.)
New York has long been a "second home" for the three DJs and producers, a point Angello has stressed in interviews and Axwell underscored in typically corny fashion by starting the group's encore by telling the audience that "Brooklyn saved the world after all." It's a bit of a non-statement (it's hard to imagine what the brand-new Barclays Center "saved"), but the audience didn't seem to mind one bit. As "Save the World" blasted through the speakers and the crowd started filing out, crowds flocked to merch stands to buy sweaters and tanks emblazoned with the group's "We Came. We Raved. We Loved." motto.
"It's rather overwhelming," Axwell said when the trio lit the Empire State Building with the colors of the Swedish flag on Thursday. "We just do what we love, making music." If there's a message that shines through the group's shows this weekend, it's that it's OK to forego cynicism, and believe a statement like Axwell's, just one last time.
Swedish House Mafia's final New York show is tonight (Monday) at the Barclays Center.