RJD2 at the Bluebird Theater
Spending countless hours hunched over my computer in intense sentiment, spewing out desperate, shocking, bleeding, fuming poetry to the penetrating backdrop of RJD2, Friday night at the Bluebird Theater in Denver couldn’t have come sooner. There is something so evocative about a man who can pair classic hip hop with sixties gun-slinging rock and cut it with piercing scratches and looming strings to produce something both uncomfortably chilling and something to sit and chill to all at once. He is his own horror movie; a Tarantino soundtrack, the voice of a murder spree from beginning to end. This Friday night, it sure felt a lot like that.
The place was dark, cloudy, and buzzing with anticipation, and for those that got there early enough, still revved up from Man Mantis and Manic Focus. RJD2, a wraithlike pioneer, stepped on stage in a space suit-like outfit, moving in time with each note in what turned out to be an extremely captivating intro. He went right into his set with barely a word, hardly engaging the crowd at all the entire hour and a half set, stopping only a few times to make awkward small talk ever reminding us he was human and not some robotic magician mesmerizing us with his ghastly chords. With four turntables, two sound machines, and a camera set to record his hand movements while he worked each, RJD2 already had us brainwashed. Right near the beginning, he fiddled with the Mad Men theme song, a haunting little ditty that could have been thought up by the music master himself to unite the crowd with a comforting familiarity. He interlaced this with some crowd favorites, like “Ghostwriter,” as well as songs that I didn’t even recognize. He barely missed a beat when going into each song.
Behind RJD2 sat a large movie screen that flashed violent and disturbing images in perfect alignment with his instrumentals throughout the show. The camera occasionally cut to his very skilled puppeteer fingers hypnotizing us with their unceasing rhythmic dance over the turntables. “Exotic Talk” was set to a montage of murder with guns that would shame the NRA and would follow the fragile home. Adding in “The Horror,” a personal and classic favorite of mine, with mild scenes intermittently placed amongst scenes of demolition, the lyrics hummed “I will amuse myself with terror” in a blatant display of RJD2’s power. A show-master indeed, I picked up on the subtlety of using scenes from Evil Dead as well as belly dancers from Bollywood in some of the same songs. The terror is in the unexpected and these images would not have been so disquieting had they not been paired with such spellbinding beats or overcast in a red fog to give the appearance of a burst blood blister creeping over every actor’s face.
Energy did lag throughout the show though. Often I would look around and find the audience standing there not sure what to do, how to move, or how to take their eyes off the 1966 50ft hair product commercial splayed in front of their gaping pupils. The luster of the sound was lost in the frenzied movement of the Indian dancers enticing us with their pasted cheese-ball grins laughing in our faces.
I, myself, wanted more bang from such a conductor of sonic intrigue. The familiarly powerful tunes, like “Ghostwriter,” united the crowd in a sudden uproar but we always came down too soon. RJD2 did not use enough of his high energy songs to keep the audience elevated. Little snippets of nightmarish scores, like “Weatherpeople,” did get the pulse up but there was never enough. He did come out for an encore, fittingly playing “Good Times Roll, pt. 2” but following that song he still couldn’t match the crowd’s excitement. Nice guy that he is, upon finally taking his bow, he announced to everyone that he would be hanging out on stage for a while and was swarmed by a mass of eager fans attempting to get his autographs
RJD2 is a nice guy with quality sound and beautifully, playful constructed instrumentals. It must be hard to be a one man show with that many turntables to keep an eye on and he relied too heavily on the screen to keep us occupied. He will continue to be my muse and I hope in the future he picks more oomph- laden songs for his shows. But the mild terror, as it always is, still lingers with me.
Review by Sarah Gawricki.