“I’m not gonna lie: first shows [of a tour] usually suck,” deadpanned electronic music producer Joel Zimmerman, aka deadmau5, Thursday night, closing out the first night of his two-night stand in Dallas, the kickoff city of his North American “CubeV3” tour. “But this one actually was great.” The sold-out crowd at South Side Ballroom roared back in agreement, before Zimmerman launched into fan favorite “Arguru.”
True to Zimmerman’s nearly 15-year-long career, the latest iteration of deadmau5’s “Cube” tour, in which the musician appears inside a lit-up rotating cube, represents further refinement of a singular and original vision, executed expertly … trends be damned. While several of Zimmerman’s peers over the past decade have chased production flavors of the moment, or said “yes” to any sponsorship opportunities that came their way, Zimmerman has always done things on his own terms, and he’s still being rewarded for it by longtime fans who have stuck by his side.
Thursday night’s tour opener (which hits Los Angeles later this month via a five-night-stand at the Palladium) was evidence of continued fan approval, despite the fact that the outing still has a few kinks to work out; minor technical audio glitches beset the complicated production twice during the opener. But few concertgoers seemed to notice, and with a show as ambitious as his, it’s not surprising the evening didn’t have a few hiccups. That’s what happens when an artist takes risks, and Zimmerman took notable gambles during the show, which only benefitted curious onlookers and longtime fanatics alike.
The show begins with Zimmerman hidden behind the carbon fiber rod-laced panels that make up the cube, yet communicating with the audience via computer in real time and messaging the audience, who see a lit-up blinking cursor as they “hear” Zimmerman’s voice via the projected texts. He welcomes all to the show by opening with a 2016 release, “No Problem,” before the production picks up steam as he delves deeper into his catalog and more of the graphical capabilities of the new cube are revealed. In the wrong hands, a show like this could turn Vegas-esque, quickly, but Zimmerman deftly mixes up the imagery so that things never turn too showy. At times graphics are otherworldly, celestial, humorous and, at times, dark, especially during “Avaritia,” where satanic imagery, flames, old Latin words and drawings of goats are projected onto the panels. The show is rarely dull, and only becomes a bit ordinary toward the middle of its two hours, when things start to feel like a “real” concert as longtime Deadmau5 collaborator (and fellow Canadian) Lights takes the stage to join Deadmau5 for “Raise Your Weapon.”
The CubeV3 experience seems to work best when the audience is transfixed and transported elsewhere via the next-level light show. That’s not to say fans don’t want to see and interact with Zimmerman as the cube occasionally turns around to expose the musician; they do, just as he likes to interact with them at strategically timed turns. But the best parts of the visually dazzling show are escapist, which the rotating cube provides in spades. It helps to be familiar with deadmau5’s catalog to fully enjoy the experience, but even without knowing Zimmerman’s music, it’s possible to walk away from seeing this iteration of the tour smiling. So much effort and love went into the programming of the experiential audio-visual happening (the entire production was designed, fabricated, and produced in-house by deadmau5’s production team/Chris Schroeder Productions) that fans feel it and won’t soon forget it.