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Above & Beyond – Group Therapy LA at the Shrine May 17 and May 18 (concert review)

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With a stunning three night run at Los Angeles’ historic Shrine Auditorium, Above & Beyond demonstrated that, in the right hands, dance music can become more than just entertainment. Paavo, Jono, and Tony have escalated the craft of producing and DJing into something that can only be described as performance art of the highest pedigree.

We were there for the first two nights of Group Therapy LA, and we’ve assembled a pretty exhaustive catalog of the songs we heard. A quick glance through our track list, however, reaffirms our belief than an Above & Beyond gig is something more than a selection of tracks played in a particular order. The Group Therapy experience defies rational explanation. It’s magical.

We arrived at the Shrine at 10:00pm, an hour and a half before Jono and Tony took to the hallowed stage (A&B usually tour in pairs, and Paavo had evidently opted to sit out this portion of the Group Therapy tour). Andrew Bayer was already at his ethereal best, and by 11:30, the five-thousand plus Anjunafans in attendance were ready to transcend themselves.

As the first notes of an unidentified remix of Above & Beyond’s “Stealing Time” began trickling out into the dark, sweaty room, the atmosphere in the Shrine began to change. Hands were thrown into the air, eyes were closed, cell phones were raised excitedly. Jono and Tony were now on stage. “Stealing Time” began to swell, and the familiar ribbons that form the Group Therapy logo appeared on the towering LED screen behind the stage.  The crowd roared its deafening approval, and as the first massive beat thudded its way through the building, five thousand people left their feet simultaneously. Group Therapy was well and truly in session.

The A&B virgins around us were stunned by the remarkable weight of that first drop. For some reason, non-trance fans presume that our beloved sub-genre lacks heavy beats. That presumption is incredibly wrong. Trance fans like to go hard — we just like to take our sweet time to get there.

Jono handled the mixing for most of the evening’s opening section, weaving his way through Above & Beyond’s “Home” and Mat Zo’s “The Sky” before dropping Porter Robinson’s crowd favorite “Language.”

Porter Robinson – Language (Original Mix)

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(Editor’s note: It speaks volumes about Porter’s career that legends like Above & Beyond are playing his tracks. We absolutely love “Language” and are incredibly excited about the evolution of his sound).

While Jono mixed, Tony preferred to hop around onstage excitedly, dancing like a madman and pointing out enraptured crowd members. Up next was Mat Zo & Arty’s “Mozart”, followed by Maor Levi’s sublime mashup of “Last Day on Earth” and “The Longest Road” (which we first heard on Arty’s Essential Mix).

Arguably the biggest drop of the evening was Norin & Rad’s deliciously dark “Pistol Whip,” a primordially huge rave weapon that threatened to bring the walls of the Shrine crumbling feebly down. “Pistol Whip” is the epitome of big room trance, a track that becomes exponentially more powerful when it’s pumping out of obscenely large speakers. With an aching synth, hypnotic melody, and monstrous break, “Pistol Whip” stirs your heart before slamming aggressively through your body. We heard it first on Anjunabeats Worldwide 04, and we can’t get enough of it.

Norin & Rad – Pistol Whip (Original Mix)

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The evening had opened with a series of bombs, and as the delirious crowd began to tire slightly, Jono and Tony began taking turns behind the decks. The next session was pure uplifting euphoria, including the club mixes of Above & Beyond’s “On My Way to Heaven,” “Thing Called Love,” and “Love is Not Enough,” the A&B remix of Kaskade’s “Room for Happiness,” Genix’s “Aura,” Kyau & Albert’s remix of “You Got to Go,” Super 8’s “Alba,” and Myon and Shane 54’s Summer of Love Mix of “Every Little Beat.”

Genix – Aura (Original Mix)

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Above & Beyond feat. Richard Bedford – Every Little Beat (Myon and Shane 54’s Summer of Love Mix)

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So what makes the Group Therapy experience so special? Perhaps it’s Above & Beyond’s willingness to address even the deepest of themes — love, longing, loss, doubt, wonder, amazement, smallness, existential dilemma — with their music. These are artistic questions, philosophical even. As such, an A&B gig is more than a distraction from your troubles. It’s a moment of clarity, an opportunity to think about your life and the people who make it worth living.

Rhythmically, the way Jono and Tony interacted with the crowd was flawless. With every crest and trough, our inhibitions were uncoiled. The feeling was one of liberation and excitement — not a stress on our bodies, but a release. With the amount of gigs we’ve covered over the years, we’d be lying to you if we didn’t admit there aren’t times when the EDM scene can feel repetitive and draining. But during this Group Therapy experience, we didn’t feel jaded. We felt refreshed. No matter how many shows we attend, there’s one image we’ll never forget — the sight of thousands of arms raised aloft, moving in unison, silhouetted against a chorus of lasers and LED screens. It’s  gripping and visceral. It’s why we do what we do.

The real-time messages typed by Tony and displayed on the massive screens (an A&B trademark) added to the atmosphere of warmth and intimacy. For some reason, you feel very safe at a Group Therapy performance — as if the perils of the outside world don’t exist.

The evening’s final section comprised a checklist of Above & Beyond’s recent hits, with Eric Prydz’ devastating remix of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” thrown in.

Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus (Eric Prydz Remix)

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The house lights were turned up for “Sun and Moon,” a typically blissful four minutes during which five thousand exalted  ravers sang their collective hearts out. As usual, a lucky fan joined Tony and Jono on stage to drop “Sun and Moon’s” signature haunting synth. It was a moment that’s become customary at Group Therapy shows, but hasn’t lost its emotional resonance.

“Prelude,” was next, and as streams of confetti rained from the Shrine’s sweaty ceiling, the energy inside the building climaxed. It’s impossible not to enjoy yourself during “Prelude’s” glorious breakdown, a cathartic reminder of why we got into dance music in the first place. If there’s a song to stop wars, heal diseases, and end world hunger, it’s “Prelude.” Anything’s possible when it plays, and we were frankly unsurprised when strangers started high-fiving each other all around us. It’s like Tony, Paavo, and Jono figured out how to condense drops of golden sunshine into soundwaves.

Above & Beyond – Prelude (Original Mix)

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The night’s final song was a spellbinding acapella version of “On a Good Day,” paired with an introspective piano melody. It was the perfect way to end the evening, to say goodbye to Tony and Jono and the temporary utopia they’d created inside the dark Shrine. Those who knew the words sang along, those who didn’t just listened, but everyone basked in the undeniable splendor of a moment we’ll probably remember for the rest of our lives.

As we walked out of the Shrine, goofy smiles firmly affixed to our faces, we couldn’t help but remark that Group Therapy shows must be good for society at large. It was like walking out of a dream — only this wasn’t a dream. It had actually happened. It was a memory — a memory we’d shared twice, with thousands of other people. Group Therapy has become a point of connection between people who might not ordinarily have anything in common. During Group Therapy, Anjunafans from different backgrounds and sensibilities come together to celebrate the way Above & Beyond’s songs makes them feel. That means they have something in common, that the sad trance music is tapping into something genuine and truthful and real.

Both Thursday and Friday showed us why Above & Beyond have become a genuine worldwide phenomenon, a trance supergroup that can feel at home (and create such a magical experience) anywhere in the world. It was also apparent that A&B have largely outgrown the club environment. Obviously, they’re still DJs first and foremost, and they still read and react to the crowd around them. But the sheer immensity of their tracks, as well as the emotion and intensity supplied by larger crowds, means the Group Therapy experience gravitates naturally to a massive scale. When the production is epic, Above & Beyond become exponentially better. They become more than just DJs.

Above & Beyond’s success is also a wonderful indicator of the way the technological innovations of the 21st century can allow artists to succeed in such a spectacular and non-traditional way. Tony, Paavo, and Jono might not be household names, and they’re far from popular on traditional media. But on the Internet and social platforms, they’re huge. They’ve utilized technology to provide fans a medium to connect with their music and each other. Their success has been built on love and respect, and largely without hype.

With Group Therapy stages scheduled for both EDC Las Vegas and Electric Zoo, we expect that the Anjunabeats revolution is about to touch many more hearts. We simply cannot wait to see what Above & Beyond have in store for us in Vegas and New York. Will the Swedish House Mafia’s dominance as America’s best-known EDM trio be challenged by the end of 2012? Perhaps. All we know is that we’d love to see Tony, Paavo, and Jono do their thing at the main stage of Coachella 2013.

Photos: ZachCordner.com

Here’s a list of some of the tracks we heard during our Group Therapy sessions on Thursday and Friday. If you have any more, please let us know in the comments!

1. Above & Beyond – Stealing Time (ID Remix)

2. Above & Beyond – Home (Club Mix)

3. Mat Zo – The Sky (Original Mix)

4. Mat Zo & Arty – Mozart (Arty’s Big Room Edit)

5. Porter Robinson – Language (Original Mix)

6. Michael Woods vs. Morgan Page vs. Lissie – The Last Day Of The Longest Road (Maor Levi Mashup)

7. Norin & Rad – Pistol Whip (Original Mix)

8. Above & Beyond – On My Way to Heaven (Above & Beyond Club Mix)

9. Kaskade – Room for Happiness (Above & Beyond Remix)

10. Genix – Aura (Original Mix)

1.1 Above & Beyond – Thing Called Love (Above & Beyond Club Mix)

12. Above & Beyond – You Got to Go (Kyau & Albert Remix)

13. Above & Beyond – Love is Not Enough (Above & Beyond Club Mix)

14. Super 8 – Alba (Maor Levi Remix)

15. Above & Beyond feat. Richard Bedford – Every Little Beat (Myon & Shane 54 Summer of Love Mix)

16. Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus (Eric Prydz Remix)

17. Above & Beyond – Sun and Moon (Club Mix)

18. Above & Beyond – Prelude

19. Above & Beyond – On a Good Day (Acapella)

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