Once when discussing clubs and venues in central New Mexico with a young promoter, I asked him what his favorite venue in the area was. “The Stage, probably. That’s the kinda shit they have in Vegas,” he told me. Not that I’ve ever been to a club or a casino in Las Vegas, but I have to admit he’s right. Just a short walk away from the front of Santa Ana Star Casino is their club The Stage is a local club I’ve never been to. I hadn’t ever gone there before because of the price of tickets (usually) and the distance from Albuquerque. I’ve realized the decision has been misguided because the quality of The Stage as a venue is incredible.
The space is beautiful and dark: It has dark flooring, black walls and minimal lighting. The most well-lit areas are the stage, the walking area on the bottom floor, the bar and the bathroom. And it’s all so lustrous and clean! I’ve been to a clean club once in my life and that was in Chicago.
The first opener was playing as I walked in and ordered drinks with my friend. I didn’t know who the openers were, so I asked the bartender who didn’t know either, but found out for me quickly. We went upstairs and set up camp for the evening waiting to see Paul Oakenfold watching and listening to Brandon J, the first act then later GRUM, the second.
Brandon J played atmospheric trance and had interestingly complex buildups and drops. GRUM played more club trance, but overall I found him underwhelming. While I understand openers are there to get the crowd warmed up, that doesn’t mean their sets have to be uninteresting. Near the end of each set the two individual DJs really stepped it up, so I could see that they could do much better though the crowd didn’t get to see much of it. Regardless, the crowd was really into each performer. A direct quote from my notes: the crowd fucking loves it.
As Paul Oakenfold took the stage the crowd applauded and cheered. Immediately I was impressed (although not surprised) by his obvious mastery of his craft. His melodies were intricate and interweaving; I never really noticed when they changed just that they had. At the beginning of the set he wove in a woman saying “I love when we play together,” an obvious nod to his fans thanking them for coming out.
Oakenfold can entwine melodies and genres unlike anyone I’ve heard before. The transition is often flawless for listeners. He started the two hour set with traditional trance then to rave trance house then anthem trance then club trance house then ended with dance trance. The small differences between the sub-genres are small but noticeable; through that he was able to control how the energy of the crowd and how they moved and danced.
The visuals to accompany his music certainly got my attention: videos of him walking, DJing, playing cards, skiing and snowmobiling were the majority, but there were some shorts of him as a lego character DJing which I thought was adorable. This 52 year old man who is critically acclaimed, has scored films and is one of the forefathers of the electronic genre as we know it today is into Legos. Like I said, adorable.
The audience was diverse, containing every type of person from businessmen to ravers. Throughout the show they all went wild. The dance floor was packed with sweaty bodies swaying and jumping every moment, there were few lulls. The energy of the room, even as high as it was, was fairly tame compared to other electronic shows I’ve been to. There were few people who were obviously on some kind of drug or outrageously drunk, and even though I like that there weren't any large disturbances (aside from a few people climbing onto the stage to talk to Oakenfold who always responded by smiling, chatting and touching his fans' hands), it does make for a pretty uneventful night.
Near the end of his set, Oakenfold mixed in a few of his classics like “Otherside,” “Ready Steady Go!” and “Southern Sun.” I was honestly hoping he would play “Starry Eyed Surprise” which was a collaboration with the musician Shifty from 2002 but it's not exactly a club song, so I resentfully understand.
At the last ten minutes of his set, Oakenfold had numerous buildups and drops. After the final, gentle drop at 1:55am, I left quickly, excited to sit down in my car with my friend after standing and swaying for the last four hours.
It was a long night, but the final quality of the show and venue has swayed me to return one day, not just for another show review like this, but as a casual member of the public.