[live review] Chus + Ceballos at Royale

Chus + Ceballos, the A-list DJ/production duo from Madrid, Spain, dropped a set at Royale Thursday night as strong and imaginative as any I've seen them do in Boston. Beginning precisely at midnight, Chus Esteban and Pablo Ceballos laid down a train-track choogle as classic in tone and progressions as those of 1950s R&B - and as up-to-date in surface textures as an Instagram.

The train track choogle is not a Chus + Ceballos signature - the sound that fans identify them with is what they call "Iberican," a mix of tribal rhythms, streaky high notes, and wind-effect breaks - and for the first half hour of their music it seemed that they had changed their sound to something more aligned with today's infatuation with techno. But that seeming was mistaken. The set eventually evolved to their beloved Iberican. Fans cheered, raised hands, and chanted "Chus Chus Chus."

It was a less than full dance floor, but those who came know their stuff. The focus on Chus is no mistake. It really is DJ Chus who sets the pace for the two Madrilenos, he who imposes the mix-board edits, he who crunches and stretches the music and designs the tracks that they produce. Which is not to downplay what Pablo Ceballos adds to their performance. At Royale he and Chus DJ'd in tandem almost throughout the set, quite unlike their usual switching from Chus solo to Ceballos solo and back again. Using two PC programs, two PC mixers, and four CD players, the team played off one another - Chus deconstructing the music and Ceballos grooming it. Often in their set the two would confer on choosing a tune for the next segue. What Ceballos suggested, Chus stretched out and stomped on.

Though their ground beats moved onto familiar Iberican turf, their shapeshifts collapsed it all into new shapes and textures. They did play "Dark Beat," "Go ON," and "The Strong Rhythm," three of their best-loved tracks, but even these were sliced and spun out in new ways and , surprisingly, older than old ones - the soulful sadness of classic 1990s house music pervaded all. Into the mix they dropped many more vocals than usual, both natural and sampled; screaming divas soared up from the rhythm, and Celeda's "Music Is the Answer" swerved in and out, as the music honored not Iberican itself but the pain-remedying house music that Iberican was the duo's celebratory answer to.

In the set's last 45 minutes, Chus kicked pain to the curb. He imposed ever more expressionistic shapeshifts upon it, dropped ever wilder wind effects, stopped the music entirely ever more unexpectedly - only to start it up again with a beat or groove unlike what went before. Chop, slash, train choogle, breeze, stop - so the climax of their set went on, a train escape to everywhere one could imagine being free. And he did it without once leaving the bluesy, funky psychedelics that are house music.

Opening DJ Vic Angelo, a new name who reportedly is on the tour with the duo, dropped a rapid-fire, melodically plush set of run and race, chase and choogle that loosened dancers' limbs and put just the right line of a smile on their faces. Angelo is a name to keep track of.
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