Kygo Brings Tropical House, MØ & Shaggy to Barclays Center: Live Review

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Kygo’s career to date can be summarized with a series of impressive statistics: he’s one of the 25 most played artists in Spotify’s history, and he amassed a billion streams on the platform in a single year -- for the bean counters keeping tally, that’s a new record. Last year, he became the first electronic musician to play the Nobel Peace Prize concert. Remarkably, he has accomplished this with just a handful of singles and no top 40 hits in the U.S.

But statistics are cold and lifeless -- not what you want from the artist currently at the front of a movement dubbed “tropical house.” Like so many genres, this one benefits from a vague title, but it’s based around a few core characteristics. Hand percussion is a major plus, as are other instruments that conjure images of the southern hemisphere, such as steel drums and pan flutes. (Despite this, many of the producers associated with this sound live in distinctly untropical climates.) And while the songs are mildly danceable, they’re never aggressive – primed for gentle twirls rather than vigorous gyration.

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This music is the other side of what’s referred to as EDM (another vague title), the logical counterpoint to the spine-snapping tunes, caffeinated and heavily influenced by trap, that dominated mainstream dance music in recent years. Pop culture is quick to evolve, so it's not too surprising that variations on “tropical” are now riding high. In 2014, Robin Schulz’s remix of Mr. Probz’s “Waves” – which is slightly speedier than the average Kygo song -- claimed the top spot in a number of countries and crested at No. 14 on the Hot 100 in America. Last year, Justin Bieber sprinkled Kygo-like dust on “What Do You Mean” and “Sorry,” both of which went to No. 1. The German DJ Felix Jaehn’s remix of Omi’s “Cheerleader,” which explored similar territory, was also a No. 1.

Kygo performed at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last night with support from MØ and Conrad Sewell, and he pulled out all the stops to combat a cold New York night and an impending blizzard. Images of palm trees flashed behind him several times in bright neon hues; lasers etched colorful linear patterns in the arena air; balloons dropped at a key juncture; long, weeping-willow streams of confetti soared over the crowd.

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Kygo joined by Conrad Sewell onstage at Barclays Center on Jan. 21, 2016 in Brooklyn.  

The DJ cycled through several of his singles, some of his best known remixes -- offering his take on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” along with his reworking of the Weeknd’s “Often” (the clean version) -- and a few tracks that he announced will appear on his debut album, due later this year. Throughout the evening, the focus was on Kygo’s musicianship: as beats drifted through the confetti-laden air, the cameras zoomed in on his fingers, which dutifully looped through the symmetrical riffs that form the principal melodies in his tracks. At crucial moments, the backdrop’s kaleidoscopic array of screens all projected his keyboard work at once, suggesting an army of pianists -- each one wearing a backwards hat.   

Modern dance music stars frequently work with an interchangeable cast of vocal collaborators, and Kygo brought out several singers to strut below his elevated platform of electronics. One in particular stood out: Shaggy made a surprising appearance, appealing to Brooklyn pride as soon as he took the stage and earning one of the night’s loudest salvos of applause. He also performed his classic single “It Wasn’t Me,” which temporarily turned Kygo into a sideshow.

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The DJ’s other collaborators, Maty Noyes and Parson James, were more deferential. Noyes trotted out to perform “Stay,” Kygo’s latest single. James, dressed in a flat-brimmed hat and what looked like a scientist’s lab coat, appeared toward the end of the evening for a rendition of “Stole The Show" from last year. As the song pushed towards its peak, James executed a series of twirls, sparks erupted, and confetti spewed from the stage. But Kygo's fingers stayed busy, urging on the crowd with the sound of a pan flute.

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