BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
The second night of free concerts at the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live! event at Centennial Olympic Park brought a mixture of styles – the Prince-ly vibe of trumpet player Spencer Ludwig, some electro-tinged pop from songwriter-turned-solo-singer Bebe Rexha and the caffeinated EDM stylings of ubiquitous duo The Chainsmokers.
Slightly warmer temperatures than Saturday night’s launch coupled with the obvious popularity of The Chainsmokers’ beats equated to a crowd twice the size of opening night.
Given the forecast for Monday (rain, sleet, temperatures in the 30s), it will be interesting to see how many fans brave the elements for afternoon performances from country music’s Brett Young and Darius Rucker, followed by Kendrick Lamar’s halftime performance during the College Football National Championship taking place under the closed roof at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But on Sunday, the assembled throng was introduced to Ludwig, a lithe figure in black with modern-day A Flock of Seagulls hair.
For a guy who has spent much of his career in the background with groups such as Fitz and the Tantrums and Capital Cities, Ludwig proved comfortable center stage as he twirled around the catwalk and blasted his trumpet toward the sky.
Accompanied by a guitarist, female singer and a laptop, Ludwig shared a pleasant voice prone to Prince-styled staccato delivery on “Got Me Like,” his sharp brass tones giving his otherwise standard-issue soul-pop an edge, and showcased a creamier lilt on the glossy R&B of “Right Into U.” He also covered Prince’s “Controversy,” adding his signature horn bleats to the fan favorite.
Ludwig, who hails from Los Angeles but is currently a New Yorker, thanked fans for supporting him as an independent artist. With such an original, authentic approach to music, expect to see more of this guy in the spotlight.
For the past few years, Rexha has been around the music business first as a songwriter – she’s penned songs for Eminem (“The Monster”), Iggy Azaela (“Team”) and Nick Jonas (“Under You”), among others – and more recently as a solo chart star.
The doe-eyed beauty charmed her way through a set that included her dance-pop collaboration with Nicki Minaj (“No Broken Hearts”) and the reggae-tinged “Hey Mama,” which she shared with David Guetta.
Rexha interacted several times with the crowd – first by holding up an Alabama knit cap to provoke boos from the audience (“I’m gonna say I want Georgia to win, because I don’t want to get killed,” she said with a laugh) and later when she invited a fan on crutches to join her onstage and be the recipient of her ballad with Martin Garrix, “In the Name of Love.”
In her puffy black coat, leggings and stilettos, Rexha managed to shimmy her hips and engage in some mild twerking in between leading a singalong of “Meant to Be” (a Florida Georgia Line pairing) and the finger-snapper, “I Got You.”
Fortunately for the fans who had cozied up to the front stage barrier as soon as gates opened at 4 p.m., The Chainsmokers arrived on stage 15 minutes ahead of their scheduled 9:30 p.m. start, with Drew Taggart immediately hopping down from the riser that housed mate/DJ/keyboardist Alex Pall and touring drummer Matt McGuire to sing “Bloodstream.”
Taggart strapped on an acoustic guitar for “Young,” an actual melodic song that built into the duo’s trademark crescendo of chest-rattling bass and distortion that drowned out Taggart’s vocals.
Smoke oozed from the stage as plumes of pyro accented the beats that drove “Break Up Every Night.” At times, the presence of McGuire’s live drumming elevated the music from droning elec-bro-pop to something more organic, but The Chainsmokers have become massively successful not for their musical prowess, but for their canny remixing and high-energy live shows.
In that regard, the trio did not disappoint, as animated videos, calls for “Everybody, hands up!” and a blitz of frantic lights and retina-assaulting colors blasted from the stage as the sounds of “Until You Were Gone” and their Daya smash, “Don’t Let Me Down” kept the sea of bodies bouncing in unison.