Dave 1 of Chromeo tinkered with a couple of knobs behind a small DJ rig on stage, waiting for the house music to fade. Shalamar had played moments earlier, then Frankie Beverly and Maze’s timeless “Before I Let Go,” because it’s the Apollo Theater and that’s where those songs live all the time, like schoolteachers under desks. But then, like a glitch in the matrix or a hawk in the sky, everything changed: Dave hit the switch and—with a flourish of horns and an errant “Just Blaze!” call—there was Cam’ron. Then Big L, then Ma$e, then A$AP Rocky, his Serato calling on them as if Santa’s reindeer. Harlem was definitely in the building, as channeled through the ears, synapses, and fingers of David Macklovitch, a six-foot-something Jewish disco-wave artist from Montreal with glasses.
“I used to live on 122nd and Amsterdam. I don't how many of you know what neighborhood that is,” he said, cutting Cam’s “Suck It or Not” off for a second. The audience, still creeping in, looked more New Brooklyn than Adam Clayton Boulevard. So, he went informative: “Big L passed away, but he was my favorite rapper growing up. And he was from Harlem." And, seconds into “Feel So Good,” he noted: “This is what’s known as jiggy.” He also revealed he’d interviewed Eminem for Vice very early on, in “one of his first interviews. So early, I remember he'd just dyed his hair. I asked who his favorite rapper was. He said Ma$e.” A beat by Puff Daddy’s Hitmen played. Macklovitch said, “It made me look at Ma$e in a whole new way."
The world-famous Apollo Theater—known for its highs, lows, and Tree of Hope—is much smaller than imagined; “TV adds 10 pounds,” etc. But what the venue lacks in size, it makes up for in legend. (“Chromeo, Live at the Apollo!” makes for way better posters than, say, one for the sound canyon that is Terminal 5. Has anyone over the millennia ever bragged about being on West 56th Street?) Draped in red, dripped in gold, the theater immediately makes you wish you dressed up nicer, maybe wore a hat. As it was, everyone was in high-end streetwear, a mass of black bombers, black jeans, and white canvas shoes. Put together, the crowd looked like a keyboard tie.
As it was, everyone was in high-end streetwear, a mass of black bombers, black jeans, and white canvas shoes. Put together, the crowd looked like a keyboard tie.
“You can’t sit,” Dave said, ending his DJ set. “This isn’t a movie theater.” And so we danced, as much as one can, finding space in aisles, nooks, and crannies. (My seatmate called it “SoulCycle at the Apollo.”) While P-Thugg stayed attached to his instruments—his Vocoder tube, firmly in mouth—Dave was more free to move. During “Fall Back 2U,” the funkiest cut off last year’s White Women, he jumped offstage, bobbing and weaving through the crowd like Jimmy Fallon on a couple of chill pills and wine. Chromeo managed to make 1981 look and sound futuristic, standing in front of Gary Numan’s backdrops and bouncing off Michelle Pfeiffer’s mirrors. Their lights moved as if strung along by Herbie Hancock, unbroken beams coming alive in lock-step. When Dave finished a guitar flourish, he hoisted it up in the air, channeling He-Man or maybe Han Solo, sneering behind sunblockers with his tongue out.
The interplay between Dave and P was that of Siegfried and Roy, without the tigers but with all the magic tricks. (Or maybe they’re like Mick and Keith, if the Rolling Stones enjoyed kitsch almost as much as they liked one another.) Dave wore silver; P wore a red sequin blazer and black beret, existing as the logical pinpoint between Hugh Hefner, Liberace, and Oddjob. At one point, Dave leaned his head on P’s chest and grinned; later on, they did Morris Day-like moves and ended up in an elaborate frozen-time high-five, complete with choreographed footwork. Dave stopped the show to shout out his mother during “Momma’s Boy.”
Three young kids, one in a slouchy Vineyard Vines long-sleeve, stood near the stage, too young to feel comfortable dancing in public. The middle one Snapchatted the action while the others looked on, hands in pockets. A few seats down, two girls their age grinded on one another, taking off shirts until there weren’t any left.
Midway through the show, Dave stopped the music. "We haven't been back in our second hometown since we played Central Park in September. Here we are at the Apollo, getting all classy for you guys.” He looked up to the top balcony, his glasses a shade of white from the lights. “This is for everyone who was with us for the Bowery Ballroom days. The Cake Shop days. The opening-up-for-the Scissor Sisters-at the Knitting Factory days. Guess what? We're still here."
Jeff Rosenthal is a writer living in New York. Follow him @ItsTheReal.