Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Giorgio Moroder, 78-year-old father of disco, basks in the love at First Avenue

Photos by Andy Witchger for MPR

Last night, legendary songwriter-producer Giorgio Moroder made his Minnesota debut with a DJ set at First Avenue. After a few humble words of tribute to Prince, Moroder started spinning the hits. For perspectives from gen X (Jay) and gen Y (Cecilia), two of our staffers saw the show together and shared their thoughts afterward.

Cecilia Johnson: Jay! Last night, we both had the honor to dance to glitzy electronic ballads and legion Donna Summer hits on the First Avenue floor. For whom? Giorgio Moroder, the Italian songwriter/producer who is the literal Father of Disco. Let’s start with first thoughts: How did this show compare to your expectations? Did you enjoy yourself?

Jay Gabler: I did enjoy myself — in part because, I think like a lot of people there, I kind of just wanted to pay my respects. I wasn’t expecting any transformative insights into Moroder’s art, or a particularly dynamic DJ set, and sure enough that’s not what we got. What we got was a vastly influential musician who’s spent most of his very long career behind the scenes, stepping out to enjoy the adulation of a surprisingly young crowd. I mean, most people are young compared to age 78, but I wasn’t expecting as many 20- and 30-somethings as I saw.

Cecilia: Same here. I walked in around 8:15 p.m. – hours before Giorgio stepped behind the turntables – and it shocked me to join an already sweating crowd populated by young dorks such as myself. We shook our hips to the sugariest disco I’ve ever heard, spun by Dirty McKenzie, a Beiruti currently based in Minneapolis. I couldn’t believe how quickly I started wanting to shimmy.

Jay: I missed that, unfortunately, but I caught some of the set by DJ Jake Rudh — who could have played a three-hour set of purely Giorgio Moroder bangers and still left the headliner with plenty of material. I found myself thinking, if you made a list of the ten most influential living musicians, no one would give you any flak for putting Giorgio Moroder in the top ten. He helped define the way that electronics would be incorporated into popular music, and now every drummer at SXSW has an interactive pad behind the kit.

Cecilia: Which totally came into play during Moroder’s DJ set. He’d move from disco classics (“Stayin’ Alive,” “I Will Survive”) to his collaborations with modern stars (“Déjà Vu” with Sia; “Right Here, Right Now” with Kylie Minogue). But he’d also throw in chin-scratching yet perfectly appropriate songs by pop-EDM superstars like Calvin Harris and David Guetta. One of the most infectious songs on the dance floor had to be “Beautiful Now” by Zedd.

Jay: I kept pulling out my phone to Google every song and see what his involvement was. Has Giorgio Moroder collaborated with Rihanna? It doesn’t seem so, but he’s a superfan. The fact that he’s so conversant with 21st century music is both a testament to his enthusiasm and dedication; and an indication of just how much of its DNA came out of his studio. I loved the fact that before he played a remix of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” (featuring your favorite, Kimbra, from 2011), he apologized for dropping “a very old song.”

Cecilia: I do love Kimbra. I wanted to be a little skeptical – like, we know that he does just about the same set at every show. Last night, you pointed out he doesn’t even extend the pretense of wearing headphones. What’s to stop the man from getting paraded around and told which songs to play? But then I checked out his Twitter, and just a few days ago, he posted a Halsey lyric and kind of a smexy picture of himself. It seems like he’s really just in wonderment at electronic and pop music.

Jay: As an ’80s kid, I grew up knowing Giorgio Moroder as a name behind some of my favorite sweepingly romantic pop hits. I was thrilled that he played my favorite among those, a relatively deep cut called “Together in Electric Dreams.” He also played “The Neverending Story” (shout-out to Limahl) and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” which made my head spin to think that Tom Cruise is still one of the world’s biggest action stars. What I didn’t appreciate until much later was his foundational role in the creation of disco, and electronic dance music generally, in the ’70s. His collaboration with Donna Summer was foundational, and it was poignant to see so much video of her last night.

Cecilia: My first encounter came via Random Access Memories, the 2013 Daft Punk album that featured him on “Giorgio by Moroder.” It’s this nine-minute storytelling track spiced by disco guitar riffs and eventually a kaleidoscopic electronic segment. I had no idea who he was, but I loved his accent (he grew up speaking German, Italian, and Ladin in northern Italy). So it felt really special to hear him begin his encore with that song last night. “My name is Giovanni Giorgio,” he quoted, a little bashful. “But everybody calls me Giorgio.”

Jay: That was cute! His whole aspect up there made me think of a merry old toymaker, watching kids enjoy the things he’s made. He’d wave his arms, drop the vocal tracks for singalongs, and join us in shouting the choruses to tracks like Blondie’s “Call Me,” his last encore. It’s crazy to think that he’s two years older than Paul McCartney. He feels like David Bowie: both part of, and outside of, his own baby boomer generation. Fittingly, both he and Bowie found fertile creative ground in the German music scene of the ’70s.

Cecilia: Ugh. Bless Giorgio Moroder. I’m so glad we got to see his goofy show.

Jay: Me too! Let’s do this again when Max Martin comes to do a DJ gig in 2049.