There was a lot going on that made for tough decision making for music fans on Friday night, but with someone legendary and highly inspirational comes to town, people take notice. Even with other huge names around town throwing events in other venues, the Bluebird Theater hosted a sold out show of its own featuring a good mix of upcoming and established talent.
People were packed into the venue early as the openers Human Agency took the stage. This Denver electronic music group had three members on stage; Seamus "Dialogue" Moore (controller/sampler/effects), Ryan "Biorhythm" Kjos (sampler/turntable), and live drummer Jonas Otto. The three put together a blend of pleasant electronic based music that had an extra organic punch. They created an overall ethereal sound joined by very danceable beats, accentuated by the addition of live drums, live scratching, and hip-hop vocal samples. Songs like "Hey Man" of their upcoming album were progressive beat journeys that kept the crowd dancing throughout their set, continually building the night's energy.
|Wick-It The Instigator|
Up next was Wick-It The Instigator. This DJ/producer from Nashville, TN came on stage with one thing in mind - unload a ridiculously energetic set on the unsuspecting crowd that would turn the Bluebird Theater into a full on party. Using a controller and effects, he unleashed a mash-up mix that featured a host of genres. To keep the crowd hyped, his mix featured heavy combinations of hip-hop, dubstep and electro - usually at the same time - to deliver constant bangers yet still keep everyone clued in as they were able to sing along with familiar lyrics.
|Wick-It The Instigator|
Intertwining heavy dubstep and hard electro with hip-hop, he layered in Luniz, Big Tymers, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, M.O.P., Ol' Dirty Bastard, Lil' Jon and more. But he also went further, bending genres when he included tracks from Adele, Modest Mouse, CSS and even The Coasters. They way he layed everything out there really was something for just about everyone. I've said before that I shy away from dubstep because of how saturated the genre is currently, and while sometimes what Wick-It The Instigator was a off-putting to me, other times I couldn't help but smirk and think to myself "clever bastard" because of what he was mashing up his songs to. This guy definitely knows how to rock a party, and he had the audience bouncing off the Bluebird Theater walls.
Finally, it was time for the main event, RJD2. Throughout the previous sets, people could see an impressive setup lingering in the background begging to come to life; four turntables, multiple mixers, a couple MPC drum machines, and a crate of vinyl records. When it was time for RJD2 to come on stage, I expected him to go behind the decks and immediately go to work. I was wrong, but definitely not disappointed as RJD2 emerged from backstage in spacey looking welders helmet and jumpsuit with an MPC strapped to his midsection. Speaking with a distorted, alien-like voice, RJD2 introduced himself and began laying out a complex beat by playing the drum pads on his MPC.
Once he wowed the crowed with his skills on just one MPC, he shed his costume and proceeded to set himself up behind his array of turntables. He got the party started with the leading track off his latest album The Colossus, "Let There Be Horns". Right away he got busy - if he wasn't laying down a record he was on a mixer or MPC. The only time he wasn't on a piece of equipment was when he was digging through his record crate. Otherwise he was cutting, scratching, sliding a fader, twisting a knob, or firing off a sample from a pad on the MPC. Often, he was doing more than one at the same time - incredibly impressive.
It was great seeing the live versions of the RJD2 songs I've come to know and love over the years. He didn't perform everything song by song, but instead mixed his songs together like a very skilled and experienced DJ. For instance, "Bus Stop Bitties" from The Horror EP went into a hip-hop break and then morphed back into RJD2's music through some sweet MPC work. His performance of "A Beautiful Mine" replaced Aceyalone's rapping with excerts from "True Confessions" plus some electric guitar samples he added on top of the mix from a vinyl cut.
His set was accompanied by a video projection, although to be honest, I was so mesmerized by RJD2's music and the fact that he was reconstructing his music live with all the equipment on stage I never really paid attention to it. However, he did have a camera trained to one of his MPCs, and it would project the quick finger-work of RJD2 as he would tap all the sample pads in perfect time to create ridiculous drum beats. At one point, he put on a hand puppet and recreated a Donkey Kong scene using the projector, firing off all the sound effects with his puppeted hand on the sample pads.
For a long time RJD2 fan, the concert was incredible. He slyly pulled records out of his crate, introducing the recognizable samples from my favorite tracks. He even mashed up some of his own songs/beats, like "Explosive" mixed with "Iced Lightning". He let some of his samples on vinyl play out longer, revealing more of the original songs. He chopped up and rearranged some of his beats using the MPC, and his scratching was refreshing as it seems fewer and fewer DJs scratch anymore. Even his encore was amazing - "Good Times Roll Pt. 2" went into "Good Times Roll Pt 1.", finishing with a third version of "Good Times Roll" I'd never heard before.
I could imagine that if one wasn't familiar with RJD2's music, it might have been a slightly different experience. Because RJD2 was doing everything live through vinyl and drum machines, his set wasn't completely flawless. In the eyes of a long-time fan, that was actually very cool to see, simply because it was a testament to the level of difficulty he was approaching his set, bringing about a human element to this legendary artist. But for those unfamiliar - a mistake is a mistake. Some of his transitions were abrupt - going from a fast song suddenly to a slower one. Not knowing his music, it may have made one stop dancing and wonder what was going on momentarily. For me, being able to recognize the upcoming song made me anticipate the next explosion, knowing that the sudden slower pace was just a build up. I suppose a more accessible show would have been how he performed The Third Hand with a full band - that was an incredible, albeit more traditional, display of RJD2's music.
Still, this concert was the way I've always imagined an RJD2 set to play out. I remember seeing a video interview of him talking about how he designs his sets so that those that are familiar with DJing and the way music is made would really appreciate what he does on stage. I think he was able to accomplish just that, because I'm still trying to wrap my head around how managed to put together his music without headphones on so many turntables and drum machines, with unmarked vinyl on a dark stage. How did he know where to drop the needle? He just did, and it was completely mesmerizing.
See more pictures from this show in the Facebook photo album. Like the Concerted Effort page to stay up to date.