Swedish House Mafia at Madison Square Garden: the biggest night of dance music in NYC — ever

We first started hearing rumors of a Swedish House Mafia New York event in late summer, and as time went on we kept getting the sense that something big was in the works. First it was a cryptic website with seemingly-random numbers, and then it was scrambled codes showing up in SHM liveshows, but it wasn’t until the trio confirmed the news themselves on a special SHM takeover of Pete Tong’s Essential Selection on BBC Radio 1: Swedish House Mafia would be playing Madison Square Garden.

Ever since then we’ve been (im)patiently awaiting the trio’s arrival to New York City, and trying to figure out exactly what they would have in store. We knew that they would be pulling out all the stops, but tons of lights, tons of fans, and tons of music combined to be something more than we could’ve imagined. Swedish House Mafia took the Garden — and NYC in general — by storm, and we’ve got a full recap of exactly how the night went down.

A New York-infused version of the SHM intro sequence was projected on the enormous white cloth concealing the stage, and the beginning of Axwell’s “Together” was playing through the speakers. Suddenly the white sheet cascaded down to the floor, giving the audience its first glimpse of the mega DJs and their mega-structure from which they would command the Garden. Steve, Axwell, and Seb were perched atop an enormous semicircular DJ booth comprised entirely of LEDs, while another larger semicircle of LED panels served as their backdrop. A circular truss hung from the ceiling of MSG, housing even more lasers, spotlights, and LEDs, tying the whole production together into one massive array of lights. Of course, there was also a firing squad of CO2 cannons and lots of pyro — it is Swedish House Mafia after all.

The night got off to a very good start with a brand new track that we have no details on, followed by the incredible Axwell cut of Michael Calfan’s “Resurrection.” Our only complaint was that it may have gotten dropped too early in the night, but the “Watch The Sunrise” vocals worked wonderfully over the DA-approved anthem so we won’t complain. SHM has seemingly swapped out Nari and Milani’s “Kendo” as its electro track of choice, and replaced it with “Atom” from the same duo. You can certainly tell that they were both made by the same guys, but “Kendo” was becoming a bit dated and this brings new life.

“Lunar,” from David Guetta and Afrojack, Deniz Koyu’s “Hydra,” and Thomas Gold’s remix of “Set Fire To the Rain,” all served as a prelude to “Calling,” which needs no introduction. The tracks were interwoven and mixed so seamlessly over each other, and we watched Steve, Axwell, and Seb reaching over each other to mess with knobs and hardware on stage. Adele’s voice gave way perfectly to the drops of “Hydra” and the entire Garden went wild when the first piano riffs of Thomas Gold’s masterpiece came on.

You may not have heard of Ivan Gough or Feenixpawl yet, but their track “In My Mind” is an upcoming release on Axtone and sounded phenomenal in the cavernous arena. Sebastian Ingrosso’s bootleg of “Tung” with “Feel So Close” had nearly everyone around us singing along, and it was followed up with an inventive bootleg of “Replica” with the vocal from “Mother Protect.” Axwell’s bootleg of “Heart Is King” with “Losing My Religion” and “Punk” was another familiar track we were glad to hear at MSG, but it cut right into the drop of the instrumental mix of Deniz Koyu and Johan Wedel’s remix of “Dangerous.” Needless to say it was awesome to hear live, and we didn’t find ourselves missing the James Blunt vocals at all.

One thing we didn’t expect to hear in SHM’s set was dubstep, but the BPMs slowed down with a monstrous mashup of Cassius’ “I Love You So”  and Michael Woods’ “Bullet.” Nero’s “Promises” was also integrated into the mix, combining to create a refreshingly different sound from SHM. The Nero vocal gave way to a sure-fire highlight of the night in the form of “Trio,” an upcoming collaboration from Arty and Matisse & Sadko. In the same way as Thomas Gold’s “Set Fire To the Rain” remix, its opening piano riffs are unassuming, but it evolves into a beautiful progressive melody with a killer drop that we’ve come to expect from Arty tracks.

Next thing we knew, Tinie Tempah appeared on stage to deliver the “Miami 2 Ibiza” vocals live. He was jumping around all over the place, standing atop the DJ booth and generally having a blast. They followed it up with the vocal mix of “Antidote” — which you honestly can’t appreciate until hearing live. We’re still a little iffy on the vocal mix, but in the MSG environment it really worked. “The End” and “One” helped give Mark Knight’s remix of “You’ve Got The Love” a dark edge that it doesn’t usually have. You wouldn’t think that these three tracks could work together, but it all came together splendidly — and it wasn’t “One” with “Calabria.” Finally.

Axwell took the mic and addressed the crowd before his mashup of “Nothing But Love” with “Around The World” came on. In the typical Axwell way, he told the world that there was “lot of love in the room” and said the Swedish House Mafia had the same love in return. After the emotional (read: entertaining) reprieve, things got right back to business with hard hitting tracks like Steve Angello’s “Yeah” and Tommy Trash’s remix of “One Last Ride.”

It was Skyler Grey’s vocals on “Coming Home” that broke up the electro beats, only to have them return when Hard Rock Sofa’s “Quasar” was thrown into the mix. It’s reminiscent of “Tung” but not too similar, and the addition of “Aerodynamic” to the already-awesome bootleg just put the whole thing over the top. “Fix Your Pressure” was the last big bootleg before the final sprint of this amazing show, and the Coldplay interlude in the middle served as a nice departure from other tracks from the night.

Swedish House Mafia ended the night with a string of their own tracks, starting off with their remix of “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.” Next, John Martin joined them on stage to sing “Save The World” live, before the familiar sounds of “Sweet Disposition” could be heard. There’s not many songs out there that have become as iconic as Axwell and Dirty South’s remix, and hearing it inside Madison Square Garden was simply an ethereal experience. During “Teenage Crime,” Steve Angello did his “squat down to the floor and then jump up” bit, but it seemed relatively lame. Everyone was already dancing, and it was an unnecessary interruption in our opinion. Couldn’t he have asked everyone to do a wave instead?

“Just a quiet night, with a few friends here in New York City… Ain’t that something New York?” Axwell asked as the set was winding down. Of course, he made a typical Axwell joke by remarking that “It went too fast… We came too fast,” before delivering one more message in the form of “Leave The World Behind.” However, instead of the usual instrumental, we got Alesso’s “Good Love” remix instead, and even some bits and pieces of Nicky Romero’s remix of “Flash.” The final track of the night was “Be” with “I Found U” and “Knas” — a great way to end on a high note.

Even in the enormous venue of Madison Square Garden and surrounded by an extensive live production, Axwell, Steve, and Seb commanded the passionate crowd in a way that seemed so effortless and graceful. Part of Swedish House Mafia’s allure is the exclusivity factor (they only get together every so often), but this is really a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Steve, Axwell, and Seb are all incredibly talented on their own, but they create something magical when they DJ together. The vibe in Madison Square Garden was really something you needed to experience to understand, but even just by listening to the set, you see their understanding of the music. They have an intricate ability to combine so many different types of songs in such a seamless way, and the venue made it all the more impressive.

Whether you love them, hate them, or think that they’ve gone too mainstream, one thing is for sure: Swedish House Mafia is the biggest name in dance music in the year 2011, and their spectacle at Madison Square Garden was a once-in-a-lifetime testament to their success.