This past Saturday (May 28), Above & Beyond attracted a sold-out crowd more dressed up in suits, stiletto heels, and fancy dresses than one would normally expect at a show headlined by the beloved trance trio. Then again, this wasn’t your normal Above & Beyond show.
The Grammy-nominated group of Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki descended upon Los Angeles’s Hollywood Bowl for the penultimate US stop of their Acoustic II album tour, during which they translate their club-geared hits into sprawling compositions with the help of a live orchestra and band. It’s the sequel to the concept’s highly successful debut run in 2013, back when EDM and live, instrument-driven performance were viewed by many as being mutually exclusive.
However, a lot can change in three years. Electronic-indie duo Bob Moses is one of the genre’s latest crossover acts, booking gigs for Coachella and Ellen after releasing their debut album. Pete Tong enlisted an orchestra to recreate dance music classics, and producers including BT and Kate Simko realized their own electronic-symphonic projects. At this year’s Grammy Awards, Jack Ü performed a live version of their Justin Bieber collaboration, “Where Are Ü Now.” Though Above & Beyond may not have necessarily pioneered the idea of unplugging dance music from the decks, they brought it to a broader audience and shattered stereotypes in the process.
Even this time, well into Acoustic’s second round, the trio repeatedly marveled at the experience being a “dream come true”—especially in a storied venue such as the Bowl, which has previously hosted the likes of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Donna Summer. Standing beneath its caved-out structure, they blended into the orchestra crew, which included a harpist, guitarist, percussionist, violinists, and cellists; as well as vocalists and A&B collaborators Cobi, Natalie Holmes, Zoë Johnston, and Justine Suissa. At various points, Grant, McGuinness, and Siljamäki took on instrumental duties of their own on the piano, guitar, and vocals.
Over two spellbinding hours, they covered ample ground with classical interpretations of songs old and new, starting with “Hello,” which slowly stirred the crowd to attention with its water bowl rim-sliding, twinkling Rhodes keys, and celestial vocal refrains, all of which were caught on multiple side screens broadcasting in black and white like an old film.
The contrast-rich aesthetic would also play out in the evening’s set-list. “Pretty much from the first day that Tony and Jono and I met, we were fascinated by one thing, and that’s the contrast between light and dark, pure joy and sadness,” Siljamäki explained between songs. “There’s something really beautiful when you play with that contrast.”
Appropriate, then, that following Johnston’s haunting rendition of “We Are All We Need” was a rousing powerhouse performance of “Blue Sky Action” from LA transplant Cobi, and then a couple songs later, a detour into love as obsession with another Cobi-led number, “Sticky Fingers,” and the Holmes-featuring “Counting Down the Days”. As captivating as Above & Beyond made the dark side seem—including McGuinness on vocals and lead guitar for “Black Room Boy”—the audience connected more to the uplifting material like “Thing Called Love,” a moment in which the side screens broke from their black-and-white scheme to bleed a vibrant shade of red, and nearby fans were seen wiping tears from their cheeks.
Around 10:30pm, after their “last song,” all left the stage for a good few minutes, leaving the crowd clamoring for an encore until the crew finally obliged. The next 30 minutes were dedicated to fan favorites: Oceanlab classic “On A Good Day”; the group’s most-known hit, “Sun & Moon”; and “Good for Me.” Despite the slowed tempo of the orchestral arrangements, all songs maintained the energy of their original form while heightening in sheer emotion, resulting in sounds that were simultaneously familiar and new.
Above & Beyond’s acoustic show was in itself something of a Hollywood film production, utilizing sound and visuals to tell a story about love and loss, and light and dark, in a way that was poignant without feeling overly cheesy or cliché. For all its dark and tear-filled moments, the experience culminated in a confetti-filled happy ending quite befitting of its famed location.