RJD2 @ Highline Ballroom – 03/08/10
March 25, 2010, 4:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I cannot stress RJD2’s amazing talents enough.  The amount of music coming out of this little man is like a genie coming out of the lamp.  Not all of the music may be groundbreaking (over even good), but it’s definitely in there and showing no signs of slowing down.

RJD2 has not only mastered some of the most modern sound-making instruments (samplers, turntables, synths…etc.) both on and off stage, but for some time now he has been tinkering with live instrumentations of the traditional sort…guitars, bass and drums.  And it looks like he is a very quick learner as each successive album finds himself leaning away from the former and more on the latter.

I can count on one hand how many of today’s producers (especially in hip hop) would have the confidence and ability to re-create some of their tracks in a live setting.  Exile, Prefuse…I see you!  RJ not only does just that, he also adds a couple scoops of raw analog power to his tracks both old and new.  Tonight’s appearance was to support his latest full length release, The Colossus (still deciding my thoughts on it…review to come).

For this performance, he incorporates elements from past tours/shows.  I have seen him with a DJ only set up.  I have seen him with a MPC only setup.  But tonight’s arsenal was a combination of the two…three turntables, 2 mixers, a tricked out Roland sampler and his trusty MPC…plus a FULL band.

He’s never been a world class scratcher but, he seems to enjoy it a whole lot and does it with so much soul that he pulls it off without a hitch using his ‘go to’ Trick Daddy acapella track of “Shut Up” right from the intro.  He shows his true analog dog status as he literally digs in the crates for his early vinyl classic joints.  However, like an undulating wave, his low points come mid-set when he decides to do some of his newer sung tracks.  As the act progresses he picks up steam by going back to the well and playing the remaining highlights of his catalog.  The encore consists of an acoustic version of one of my faves (“Making Days Longer”) that transitions into a full rock n’ roll band jam session to close out the night.

RJD2’s multi-instrumentalism is not only apparent when he switches between the 1’s and 2’s or 6-string or MPC and bass guitar but in the way he puts together sampled squeaks, hums, rumbles, hats, snares and voices into a tapestry of perfectly blended percussive and melodic pieces.  Being that he is one of the best drum programmers around, RJ attacks the MPC like a boxer hammering a body bag.  His drum patterns and timing leave one thinking that that has to be a living soul – not a machine.

In his evolution of becoming a full fledged musician, RJ takes the lead by playing his Fender guitar with ease.  At first, he only plays chord change ups making some of his finger work sound rudimentary.  He demonstrates some pretty ok chops as he warms up and tries to build the excitement.

With such an involved set up that’s dependent on snippets of sequenced samples having to run along side spinning vinyl discs (all while maintaining leveled audio signals) it seems inevitable that a few glitches would pop up here and there – ex.) miscued samples, instrumental rotating at 33 1/3 instead of the 45 RPM that was needed, off timing among the musicians themselves.  These thing are inherent with any live set but the problem is magnified a bit when you have certain pieces of gear locked in time giving one very little wiggle room to make adjustments.  The clashing and muddling of sounds during song transitions left portions of the set looking less polished than others.  The upside is that it does show a fallible, human side to otherwise immeasurable talented individual(s).  It also shows the lengths RJD2 goes to to ensure that what he is doing in a live environment is innovative, unique and hard as shit.

Lowest point of night, (and I will leave it at this) RJ still drops the ball when he decides to sing.  However, bringing out Aaron Livingston for a couple songs proved that the groove to his music is tight enough for both crooners and emcees.

RJD2’s band is good…really good.  It consists of a 3 other multi-instrumentalists who in total end up playing the keys/synths, acoustic guitar, bass, xylophone, standard drum kit, chimes, maracas and vocoder (on top of RJ’s rig).  Special mention goes out to the drummer.  RJ’s drum work is so complex on record that I’ve always wondered if it could be re-created by a live drummer.  I found my answer.  His drummer not only keeps up with every kick and snare but improves on them by adding that intensity and “feel”.

The highlight for me is seeing how RJD2 and his band are able to interpret tracks that had been completely created on his sampler/drum machine in his bedroom somewhere.  They def get an “A” for effort, but the execution still seems a little off.  The basic chord progressions, bass and drum kit are there….but, some of intricate melodies, counter melodies etc are muffled and really don’t translate so well.

Even though I’ve seen him a bunch of times this show was a bit different. Enough so to make it quite enjoyable.  Some parts are a bit goofy.  The Mario Bros. teddy bear that triggers Donkey Kong sounds comes to mind.  Or, his dressing up in space suit with the Roland sampler slung across his shoulder like a key-tar while spinning it ‘ZZ Top-style’.  You get it.

His growth as an artist is what I like and appreciate the most from RJD2.  Some say he has hit the pinnacle of his music making career, but I seriously doubt it.  I think once he gets through this experimental phase, it will allow him to imagine new ways of blending all the things that he has perfected, soaked up or tried out to solidify more creative audio masterpieces.

Artist/Event = 3.6/5       Location = 3.2/5


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