Wednesday, May 23, 2007

RJD2 @ The Metro, 4.20.07

by Jeff Min

April 20th 2007
started out like most days with the routine of work and errands pulling my mind away from the celebration of 4/20. Plus being a bit older with heavier responsibilities I relied simply upon the notion of the RJD2 concert at the Metro to lift me to my much needed high.

The turnout was what one would expect from the super-producer extraordinaire. The line extended a block and a half away from the door, but the most unsettling part came from the line patrons. I’ve never been a huge fan of 18 and up shows simply because of the maturity level. I may be sounding like an old codger, but one can only take so many teenyboppers and aspiring hipsters before they cringe. This feeling was reinforced when a youngster came running down the block yelling, “I love Hip-Hop!!” I grit my teeth and with my fists clenched tightly in my coat pockets I prayed to the music gods that this wouldn’t be the theme of the night.

The overall set-up of the stage was stellar. I was about two waves back from the stage and saw a Micro Korg and Juno synth and to my left; three 1200’s in the back with an MPC on one side, a giant stuffed monkey in the middle, and a keyboard on the other, and finally a drum set. At that point I realized that this was going to be more than a DJ set, but rather the Chicago debut of RJ’s new band. I was excited and skeptical at the same time wondering if this experience would parallel the same feeling of seeing Michael Jordan putting on a White Sox uniform; interesting to see, but novelty at best.

The set started off with LA rapper Busdriver, and needless to say I was thoroughly impressed. His energy was non-stop as he performed six songs from his newest album RoadKillOvercoat. With his rapid fire style and distinct public service announcement type voice his lyrics were a bit incoherent, but he more than made up for it with his crowd presence and the call and response nature of most of his songs. The most engaging being “Less Yes’s More No’s,” which turned most of the Metro, from front to balcony, into a wave of bobbing hands.

The beat aspect of this set was performed live by a man Busdriver called Mike. It was interesting to see him put the beats together on the fly and tap out the drum patterns, and the overall vibe carried a melting pot of rock and early house. Mike’s presence was well received by the crowd, which created a lot of “oh, so that’s how they make beats” type reactions. It was a solid set and definitely placed the expectations high for RJ.

During the intermission I couldn’t help but notice Woody Guthrie playing constantly over the speakers. It had even passed my ear as I came in 15 minutes before the Busdriver set, and as I looked around to gauge the crowd’s reaction I noticed that people were as indifferent as I was. I thought to myself ‘how odd of a choice it was to have Guthrie constantly playing’ but as I look back, between Busdriver, Guthrie, and RJ, the crowd was being exposed to decades of music while cruising around different genres.

As RJ made his way onstage, with guitar in hand and his band mates closely behind, I focused anxiously to see if his production genius could translate over to instrumentation. With a brief thank you to the crowd he went immediately into the title track of one his most critically acclaimed albums, Since We Last Spoke. The crowd responded without hesitation as the floor shook under the weight of jumping fans. Shortly after that song, RJ and company transitioned smoothly into Exotic Talk, which kept the energy high and the fans pleased. The tempo slowed down as RJ performed instrumentals off of the albums The Third Hand and The Horror, and I couldn’t help but be impressed by how he was able to jump from the guitar, to the synth, and finally the bass. But as he was going from song to song I found myself less and less impressed with what was going on. At one point I had to restrain a yawn, and quickly realized that this was a plain, average band. If I didn’t know it was RJ onstage I would have just assumed it was a group of guys who got together and thought it would be cool to do RJD2 covers. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, I knew that this was a poor performance. So once again, I prayed to the music gods both for this display to end and also for him to hop on the Technics, which were screaming to be touched. My prayers were answered.

The band exited the stage and RJ approached the 1200’s and started the set off with his classic track 1976. Simultaneously a screen at the back of the stage began to show bizarre clips of RJ and friends playing out the scenes to what looked to be the eventual cover of Deadringer. He then began an impressive mix on three tables, which prompted the crowd to release a champion’s ovation over the synth heavy Iced Lightning. During a set that spanned classic tunes like Ghostwriter and Final Frontier, a clip was spliced onto the video screen showing a hooded stranger freestyle walking with a pair of crutches. This might sound lame in theory, but it was by far one of the freshest things I’ve seen in a while. The DJ set rounded off nicely and judging by RJ’s departure he was smart enough not to press, and leave on a high note.

The crowd refused to accept the end and the usual shouts of ‘encore’ sounded throughout the building. I rolled my eyes and hoped that it wouldn’t happen, feeling as if RJ’s band would return and ruin the high received from his DJ set. Being the artist that he is, RJ came out with acoustic guitar in hand ready to perform what would be the last song of the night. Within the first strum I recognized one of my personal favorite RJ tracks, Making Days Longer. He couldn’t have made a better choice, and the crowd (myself included) became fixated on the simplicity of such a pretty song. It turned out to be the perfect mellow low to a day that so many spent staying high.

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