20 Watts

Juice Jam 2009: ‘Cuse Psychs Up and Gets Down to Girl Talk, Jack’s Mannequin and the Cool Kids by 20watts

Not even the rain could stop the insanity on South Campus

Not even the threat of impending rain could keep Syracuse University music-lovers away from South Campus on Sunday.  Muggy, overcast and miserable as it was, several thousand students converged on Skytop for Juice Jam 2009, and no amount of drizzle or line-up cynicism could stop them from psyching up and getting down.

Although the show got off to an admittedly slow start — a problem that has plagued the annual concert in the past — Juice Jam succeeded on the strength of its headliner, Girl Talk, who stirred up over an hour of neon, confetti-filled mayhem on Sunday afternoon.

Chicago based hip-hop group The Cool Kids were the first to take the stage, though a great number of concert attendees seemed not to have noticed.  The crowd gathered in front of the stage was a relatively small group of loyal fans, which unfortunately can’t even be attributed to their early set time, as the line for a lame airbrushed hat was still a mile long.

Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish were still the ultimate flirts, emphasizing the number of pretty girls in the audience more than once before transitioning into “Bassment Party,” instructing, “if you ugly keep your hands by your side.”  This attitude stayed true after the performance, when Mikey and Chuck embraced adoring female fans.

Cool as they might have been, however, the hip-hop duo failed to attract the enthusiasm that greeted piano pop mainstay Jack’s Mannequin.  Seeing Jack’s perform was like a trip down memory lane — and judging by the crowd that gravitated towards the stage, others felt that way, too. Friends likely reminisced about high school as they danced in groups to Andrew McMahon’s piano melodies during “Holiday from Real.” The band played much of Everything in Transit, including  “The Mixed Tape,” “Dark Blue” and “La La Lie.”  Bassist Jonathan Sullivan helped to keep the high school theme alive with his arm warmers and emo-licious haircut.

After closing with Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” Andrew McMahon climbed atop his piano and stomped on the keys.  Although this move was relatively badass at the time, in comparison to the imminent mayhem, McMahon’s momentary awesomeness was as P.G. as it gets.

The transformation to said mayhem started gradually enough. Sorority girls clad in neon, eager to be Gregg Gillis’ one true love/grinding partner, searched for a way to get on stage. The masses followed suit.  Hints of marijuana filled the air. Antsy people anticipating the ultimate dance party muttered their frustration as Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” blasting through the speakers to pass the time.

But the sunshine finally started to peek through the hazy sky and our host, Gregg “I’m Not a DJ” Gillis, stormed the stage to start the party.  Cue toilet paper.  Balloons.  Balls.  Confetti.  Gillis plays pop music for people with short attention spans and long memories: in his sets, pop music from the last 30 years resurfaces as a hook, a line or a beat, mixed into something entirely new.

Crowds tend to dig it (check Youtube for extensive evidence), and the hordes at Juice Jam were certainly no exception.  Hundreds reverted to a child-like state, struggling to grasp that prized toilet paper. If you were one of the lucky few, you had maybe a few square inches of personal space in the elephant stampede that was the audience. If even one person felt compelled to move a few inches, the entire crowd had to move to compensate. Getting stepped on, smacked with purses, suffocated by hair and enjoying yourself were all givens.

The environment wasn’t exactly conducive to letting loose, and Gillis’ mash-ups weren’t nearly as masterful as on his albums.  In fact, the much-lauded DJ seemed to stutter on song transitions, dragging them into full minutes of off-beat, off-putting awkwardness.  And while his colorful confetti world never fails to entrance, there was some sense of innovation or suspense missing from this set.

Still, the crowd responded to Gillis’ nostalgic pop chop-and-screws, dancing violently, singing loudly and fighting for inflatables and balloons when they could.  At least one girl was carried out of the crowd by her friends, shaking visibly and staring around confusedly as campus EMTs wheeled her out on a stretcher.

But the afternoon ended on a literal and figurative sunny note, as — in a weird case of weather mirroring life — the clouds cleared up and the sun came out in time for Girl Talk’s final songs.  Maybe it’s a weird coincidence … or maybe Juice Jam is just that good.

— Carly Wolkoff and Caitlin Dewey


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