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Swedish House Mafia Tug Heartstrings at Final Manhattan Show

Swede Surrender / Photo via Getty

Last summer, after five years of producing, touring, and festival-headlining as Swedish House Mafia, the group’s three members — Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Steve Angello — announced their beloved trio was calling it quits. Their time together spawned six Dance-charting singles, two Grammys, and collaborations with both Coldplay and Usher. But most importantly, it opened a new lane for Euro-house producers to move from mega-clubs like Pacha to the more lucrative arena concert circuit. As DJs who might have once been considered “big room house guys,” Swedish House Mafia are the best example of musicians who have transcended their own self-imposed aesthetics to go on to pioneer within the larger, vaguer, and more popular contemporary EDM circuit. It seems only right that they celebrate being on top (and in pop) with One Last Tour.

No, really, that is the name of their tour. Officially, their stateside shows kicked off with a ticketed auction-only gala called the Black Tie Rave at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Thursday, where tickets swelled up to $5,000 and black-tie formalwear was enforced. We chose to attend to the fan-friendly option at Madison Square Garden on Friday night instead, where ball gowns and tuxes were replaced with glowing tank-tops, brightly colored Polos, and more than a couple hundred kids toting fake IDs to the concert venue’s beer stands.

If EDM is about waiting for the beat to drop, Swedish House Mafia knew exactly how to manipulate the sold-out audience. All eyes were glued to the stage as a curtain billowed and lights flashed. A surge of music and the curtain dropped to reveal the mighty trio standing triumphantly in the middle of blinding LED screens, embracing their screaming fans with arms open and, we’ll presume, smiles. And so the night unfolded as you might expect. The trio played hits by their friends: There was plenty of Russian Axwell protégées Hard Rock Sofa, whose “Quasar” and “Here We Go” opt for techno hooks and hard rock stylings respectively; Nari & Milani’s remix of Avicii’s “Silhouettes” and Michael Calfan’s “Resurrection” brought familiar, stare-into-the-light-show trance showers.

However, the majority of their set was their own doing. They played every one of their singles: “One,” “Save the World,” “Greyhound,” “Leave the World Behind,” their bloated and aggressive Knife Party collab “Antidote,” their edit of Usher’s “Euphoria,” and Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” too. At every step, they were reminding us that they, too, are a pop act. Axwell’s remix of Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” came alongside projections of the song’s emo sentiments — “A Moment,” “A Love,” “A Dream,” “A Laugh,” “A Kiss,” “A Cry,” “Our Rights,” “Our Wrongs” — forcing tweens to “have a moment” en masse. “I think we better turn off our brains and turn on our hearts,” said a voice over the microphone.

This was an undertone to the night. From the outside, this was a dance party, a concert. Whittled down, it plays out much more like a beautifully concocted narrative that Swedish House Mafia has written for themselves. It’s truly hard to believe that the majority of their audience on Friday night has paid attention to them as a collective or individual musicians for longer than a year or two. (The average age range was 18 to 23, by my guess.) Yet, here they were, holding hands and giving hugs as the DJs played “One” in encore (not once but twice), taking photos as the trio shot off pyrotechnics, waved American flags, and unleashed clouds of confetti. All 20,000 of these young people, with their hands clutched to their hearts, belted out the words, “Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child / Heaven has a plan for you,” from a song that Swedish House Mafia essentially wrote to remind their fans that the world would indeed go on without them. As the LED screens closed down around them, signaling the end of the night around 11:50 p.m., a message from the DJs scrolled down: “You came. You raved. We loved it.”