A middle-aged man stood outside NRG Stadium, dressed in the traditional garb worn by the majority at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on Sunday evening: a patterned button down shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots.
But his hat revealed that this wasn't an ordinary night. It read, "Make America Rave Again," a cheeky allusion to the show 74,280 people had just witnessed thanks to the electronic dance music DJ duo, The Chainsmokers.
Thanks to an early start time on a Sunday, many families touting sons and daughters familiar with the Top 40 radio hits of Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall stuck around to check out the first EDM act to play RodeoHouston. The hour-long set turned NRG Stadium into the world's largest nightclub with big electro beats, pyrotechnics and fireworks, fog machines, and a trippy laser and light show. It immediately followed bull riding and mutton bustin'.
At first, it didn't seem as though the combo of cowboys and dancefloor bangers would mix, as the duo came out to stage with a bare table of four CDJs and a single microphone, not a single stringed instrument in sight. Taggart did sing vocal hooks on a handful of songs, but the setlist was comprised entirely of prerecorded selections, many just snippets mixed into one another.
Taggart even alluded to his strange surroundings at one point. "I know the expression is this isn't your first rodeo, but this really is our first rodeo," he said. "I don't think I've ever seen dance music in a situation like this."
But if a DJ's job is to get people moving, then The Chainsmokers succeeded by mastering the first rule of the craft — know your audience. The setlist not only included their biggest songs (No. 1 single "Closer," top 10 singles "Paris," "Don't Let Me Down," "Something Just Like This" and "Roses"), but a mishmash of songs familiar to everyone including "Rock And Roll All Nite" by Kiss, "Gonna Fly Now" from the film Rocky and "Under The Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were obviously playing to the youngest in attendance by including tunes from emo rock (Panic! At the Disco), punk pop (Blink 182) and hip-hop (T.I., DJ Khaled).
While it may have left a segment of country diehards scratching their heads underneath their cowboy hats, the performance that amounted to two self-admitted party bros dancing on on a table and twiddling knobs was better received than anyone anticipated. The go-for-broke, expertly-choreographed visuals helped sell the entire package.
"Make some noise if this is your first rave," Taggart directed the crowd. And make noise they did, attendees turning NRG Stadium into a dance party, with a surprising amount singing along to many of the songs in the wide-ranging set.
Once one got over how weird it was to see two guys throwing down massive beats in the middle of a dirt pile, it was a lot of fun. Taggart and Pall were well aware of the irony of it all, at one point dropping the theme of Disney's The Lion King, with the former snickering that he couldn't believe he had just played it at a rodeo.
RodeoHouston deserves credit for thinking outside the box with its programming, knowing full well that families would be out on a Sunday to take in the sights. It was an ingenious way to keep butts in seats, or in the case of Sunday's performance, wiggling in the aisles.
Electric Daisy Carnival, eat your heart out.
Setlist Note: Artists at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo generally have a setlist made available to media. The Chainsmokers did not, so this list was compiled thanks to good old Shazam. Songs that were not found or known are marked as such.
“Paris (Remix),” The Chainsmokers
“Don’t Let Me Down (Remix),” The Chainsmokers
“Inside Out (Remix),” The Chainsmokers
“Feel Your Love,” Flux Pavilion & NGHTMRE feat. Jamie Lewis
“Follow (Zomboy Remix),” Bro Safari
“Until You Were Gone (Skruz & Saturn Remix),” The Chainsmokers feat. Emily Warren
“Let ‘Em Know,” Datsik feat. Armanni Reign
“Rock and Roll All Nite (Remix),” Kiss
“Weaponize,” Pegboard Nerds & MIU
“What You Know,” T.I.
“All We Know,” The Chainsmokers
“Gonna Fly Now (Rocky Theme) Remix,” Bill Conti
“Pop Dat,” 4b & Aazar
“Sweet Nothing,” Calvin Harris feat. Florence Welch
“Cinema,” Benny Benassi X Skrillex feat. Gary Go
“Kanye,” The Chainsmokers feat. SirenXX
“I’m God,” Clams Casino
“All I Do Is Win,” DJ Khaled
“Split (Only U),” Tiesto & The Chainsmokers
“Show Me,” Tiesto & DallasK
“Can’t Get Enough,” Lookas
“Under The Bridge,” Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Roses,” The Chainsmokers feat. ROZES
“Setting Fires,” The Chainsmokers
“Paris,” The Chainsmokers
“Paris (Pegboard Nerds Remix),” The Chainsmokers
“What’s My Age Again,” Blink 182
“Wylin, Part 2,” Cesqueaux
“Tremor (Sensation 2014 Anthem),” Dimitri Vegas & Martin Garrix & Like Mike
“Closer,” The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
“Closer (Wuki Remix),” The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
“I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” Panic! At The Disco
“Ride,” Twenty One Pilots
“Something Just Like This,” The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
“King of Africa (The Lion King theme),” Douser
“Yellow (Remix),” Coldplay
“Don’t Let Me Down,” The Chainsmokers feat. Daya