About Last Night: Steve Lawler at Underbar

Lawler caught on tape this past February, not in Boston

Last night world-famous DJ STEVE LAWLER played his first ever gig here in Boston. That's what the promoters told me, and so far as I can recall they are right. I was thus expecting a wall to wall crowd to show up at Underbar. It didn't happen. About 150 -- the promoters said 200 -- dancers were there, their numbers probably cut because at the last minute the gig was moved to last night, from TONIGHT, August 7th -- at the last minute. (Indeed I almost didn't get the word myself and so almost missed the gig.)It was worth being there. From 11:49 PM, when Lawler took the decks, until after 1 AM, when I took myself home, he made us like -- no, love -- his unique sound statement. Using a computer mix-board program, and also the DJ mix board as a sound shaper, Lawler made, and sequed, a combination of deep, soft rhythms, Brazilian-inflected beats, and gently orchestrated atmospherics. His sound was neither funky (unlike, say, Mark Knight) nor harsh like, say, the Chemical Brothers; rather, his music found a comfortable middle between club music's two extremes -- comfortable but in no way compromised, or limp. It was a very European sound, of an easy style popular in Ibiza clubs -- Lawler is a fixture in the clubs there -- and among the dancers around me I heard plenty of Euro accents. The guys knew their man.Guys, yes. Though some gals were on the floor too, this was Guy Night. College types, older nighthawks, even older guys, many with heads shaved, all dressed scruffy, even punkish. They danced, too. Usually at a house music night I see the gals all dancing but most of the guys, not. Steve Lawler's guy fans danced, fiercely.Lawler proved that a DJ does not have to work his beats and rhythms to death -- as in Tribal, for example -- to make people dance their ass off. If his music was gentle and rather pastel in tone, his overlay mixes were much more forceful, even assertive, as he moved from soft orchestrated codas to big, teddy-bear beats, always with orchestration in the mix and occasionally a blissed-out vocal dropped in. He didn't vary his sound much, and he didn't have to. His mixes and his pause-stops, followed by a huge burst of beats, said it all, irresistibly.

-- Michael Freedberg

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