On like Donkey Kong: RJD2 at First Ave


RJD2 First Avenue, April 17 Review by Jeff Shaw Photos by Daniel Corrigan

"Tell him to go back to making hip-hop records," Nate Patrin shouted.

I was on my way out the door to catch last night's early show with RJD2, whose most recent album finds the prominent producer venturing more into rock with live instrumentation.

Like some from the old school, Nate was dismayed by RJ's explorations. Others -- like me -- see it as a natural outgrowth of where the prominent DJ has come from musically.

RJD2 where he started -- behind the wheels of steel. More photos by Daniel Corrigan.

In a live setting, this translates into a show that is equal parts music-appreciation listening party and groovetacular experience. The crowd can enjoy the subtle nuances of a track "Ghostwriter" with a band while mentally comparing it to the album version -- while getting loose to the part cut "Good Times Roll Pt. 2."

There was no division between the scratching and the rocking, no "live set" with a clear line of demarcation separating it from a "DJ set." The coin's two halves were always there, with turntablism melting into live instrument and back seamlessly while the video screen played video montages of memorable gunfight scenes (The Matrix, Hard Boiled), schlock horror-comedy (Evil Dead) and the occasional hair products commercial.

That's not all that was going on visually. During an interlude, RJ played a spot-on parody of the Donkey Kong video game sounds -- while a nearby camera projected his puppeted hands pantomiming Mario jumping barrels.

While Mario hopped, the show shifted back to hip-hop. Guitar sounds and Moog-driven atmospherics aside, booming beats were what moved the crowd, with "The Horror" from Deadringer capping off the main set.

This is where RJD2 roots lie, if not his most recent release. When I interviewed him for the music feature, I asked him to name a favorite track from all those he'd ever produced. He thought for a long time before coming up with the track "Big Game," a bass-heavy rap groove from Diverse's solo LP that you can hear in 30-second sample clip.

The night was a blend of old standards and new favorites, with the line between musical genres blurring.

There's a place at an RJD2 show for the b-girl trying out new moves on the edge of the crown and a place from couple doing ballroom dance twirls in the back. There's a spot for the stoners up front hiding from security and the heads sipping on deuce-deuces of beer in the back. And Nate, I'll save you a seat at the next one, because there's a place for you, too.

But as far telling RJ to go back to the old school, I would do no such thing.