DJ Shadow at First Ave, 7/17/11

DJ Shadow
July 17, 2011
First Ave, Minneapolis

"Do you think you know how this beat goes?"

The question felt like a taunt. DJ Shadow stood inside the large, white ball set up in the middle of stage, tucked in behind his spread of mixers and a tangle of wires. He looked out over the Mainroom with a large grin spreading slowly across his face. The familiar notes of "Organ Donor" came warbling out of the PA and the crowd cheered in excitement.

Then Shadow laid into things and the song exploded in every direction. He danced over the instruments, scratching here and dropping an elbow on the turntable there, until the organ riff had been cut, spliced, and wielded like a jackhammer--a one-man display of fireworks.

[jump] Of course, Josh Davis--the California DJ and producer known as Shadow--warned everyone at the outset of the evening that he wasn't "your average wedding DJ." He came out before the show started, a Giants cap angling on top of his head, and hammed it up with the audience, apologizing for the fact that he was wearing shorts. "I'm not usually so informal," he explained. "It's hot as fuck, though!" (Thank god First Ave had the A/C on.)

Then he climbed in back of his unusual stage contraption, which was a clear enough indicator in and of itself that Shadow had some tricks up his sleeve. The large ball--the centerpiece of a stage show debuted in England last summer and featured on a select run of shows Stateside this year--sat in front of a large screen, and once the music started, a pair of projections started playing on each. Among the first images shot onto the surface of the ball were some aerial views of Minneapolis, eliciting predictably hearty applause, before Shadow launched into "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt" and the projections started traveling through a series of space-age images of warehouses, circuit boards and, yes, outer space.

It can be a tricky thing to keep a producer interesting all the way through a live show-- particularly one like as cerebral as Shadow, whose recorded work tends to take on a slower, more lackadaisical vibe--so the light show proved a novel solution to that problem. There wasn't always a lot to parse from them (such as when a chainsaw cut the ball in the half), though at other times they seemed to suggest bigger ideas (like when the ball became a snow globe traveling through an enormous palace).

Yet for all that, the most entertaining parts of the night still came from watching Shadow in action whenever the ball rotated and the large rear opening spun to face the crowd. His was the look of a deep focus, flipping his headphones up to his ear, turning dials, and occasionally pulling out a pair of drumsticks. All the same, his actions were effortless, the show serving as a virtual clinic on the craft by one of the best there's ever been.

The songs themselves--some of the highlights included the Irn Mnky "Walkie Talkie" remix and a track off his upcoming album, "I Gotta Rokk"--took on new shapes too, for this was no mere recreation of Shadow's back catalog. Each one was stretched out and morphed into strange, unfamiliar shapes, many of which took on heavier, dancier treatments than their recorded counterparts. So it was little surprise, then, that when Shadow stepped back onto stage for his encore and tore through a blistering version of "High Noon," First Ave turned into a Sunday-night dance party--hips were shaking and arms waving, reaching up toward the bright, flashing lights and the master working his magic onstage.

Personal bias: If you own Entroducing..., you obviously know everything there is to know about the guy, right? Oh, oops...
The crowd: A mix of of mostly youngish men and women, with some rather tall folk (some with afros) and others heavier set with XXL t-shirts and baseball hats.
Random notebook dump: Espada's set was lively and a great warm-up for the headliner, for whom he seemed genuinely excited to play with. It's like opening for the Beatles for most DJs, isn't it?

For more on DJ Shadow, here is an interview our web editor Jen Boyles conducted for URB last summer:

DJ Shadow talks new music, remix album, mobile & more (Stateside exclusive!) from URB Magazine on Vimeo.