Unprepared and naive: two words that described me perfectly when I walked into the historic Warfield Theatre on Friday night to catch Above and Beyond. I had no idea what to expect, what the vibe would be like, and if I would be satisfied with the show but soon after the show had ended all I wanted was more.
For those unfamiliar with Above and Beyond, I will do my best to paint a picture of what transpired during their Group Therapy show in San Francisco. Defying the normal constraints of genres, Above and Beyond is able to combine different genres into something that can be simply defined as uplifting and prolific. Their combination of lights, lasers, emotional messages, and of course, music create an atmosphere unlike any other.
After an amazing set full of heavy, ‘heart-pounding’ beats from up and coming producer Andrew Bayer, the Warfield went black and the intro video went on. Combining fan curated content, as well as footage filmed by Above and Beyond with written messages, the intro video informed us (the audience) what the night was all about. After the messages “Tonight is about us sharing our love for the same music” and “Tonight is about us being together in this historic venue” filled the screen, everything went black and the iconic ‘Group Therapy’ lasers beamed across the room. It was time to begin.
Unlike other superstar DJ groups, it’s a rarity to see all 3 members of Above and Beyond performing at a show. Since they have their weekly ‘Trance Around The World’ radio show, one member is generally left with the duties of hosting that for the week. This time it was Tony McGuinness leaving the honor of playing the Group Therapy shows to Jono Grant and Paavo Siljamäki. These guys embraced this honor as they graced the stage following the powerful intro video.
One thing that I was really looking forward to with this show was discovering new music. I was truly only familiar with Above and Beyond’s hits, so I was ready for on onslaught of music I had never heard before. As the show began, I was lucky enough to hear music that peaked my interest. This came in the form of an intro edit of their song “Stealing Time”. This heavy song really go the audience moving but what was even more awesome (and a highlight of the evening for me) was when they went from this edit into the exhilarating collaboration “Mozart” from Arty and Mat Zo. Another great moment was when the group dropped Eric Prydz remix of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”. This mix was darker but offered the message to fans to ‘reach out’ to one another.
From this Jono and Paavo went on to play most of the groups hits (such as “Thing Called Love” and “Alchemy”) and continued to use the messaging (like in the introduction video) to connect with the crowd. For instance, prior to dropping their hit “On My Way To Heaven”, they put the words “Tonight this is Heaven” on the screen as an astronaut journeyed through stars to heaven. Most DJ’s connect to their audience through screaming on the microphone but not Above and Beyond. They capture your attention with prolific messages that tie into the themes of their songs. I thought this was a really cool touch that gave the show a unique feel.
Something that must be noted is the connection their fans had to the music. About every single person in attendance either had a sign with song lyrics, was wearing a piece of Above and Beyond apparel, or sported something with an Anjunabeats (Above and Beyond’s label) logo on this. Normal I find it pretty cheesy to wear the artists t-shirt to a show but not here. This was just one way that showed how connected the group’s fans are. Everybody also knew every single word to their songs. Multiple times when the volume was minimized, you could hear the lyrics clearly being sung in unison by the smiling fans. I thought this was amazing. The members of Above and Beyond are quite aware of their strong following and like to reward their fans by including them in the performance. When they play their hit “Sun and Moon”, they pick a fan to come on stage to ‘drop’ the beat on stage during the song. This show was no different, with a fan being picked near the end of the show to do this. I was blown away because no other DJ’s would ever do such a thing.
All in all, experiencing Group Therapy was a life changing experience for me. Having never given this group a fair chance, I left blown away and instantly considered myself a huge fan as I longed for more. It wasn’t just the music that was played but rather the complete experience. The people around me, the messages on the screen, and the lights all played an important part in making this show unlike any I had ever seen before. I know that I will be counting down the days until I get to experience this phenomenon again.