With Pigeon John
11.21.10 | Ogden Theatre
See slideshow and read the interview with DJ Shadow
Josh Davis (aka DJ Shadow) has come a long way since his days collaborating with hip-hop icons Gift of Gab and Lyrics Born, and his skills have only gotten more sharply honed as the years have gone by. DJ Shadow's extensive record collection makes for interesting listening when he's creating a live set -- you never know exactly what you'll hear. He didn't disappoint, dropping a technically perfect, hard-driving set that showcased the scope of his taste and talent. But first, Pigeon John warmed up the crowd with his playful, witty hip-hop stylings.
Pigeon John melds classic elements of hip-hop with some modern tweaks, like the two soul singers (one of whom, Erika Dee, was also deejaying the set). Their harmonic backing vocals were gorgeous, and Pigeon John has a good flow and crisp, enunciated voice that lends to his whimsical mood. They did "Side to Side," a collaboration with Blackalicious, Q-Tip's "Let's Ride," and Pigeon John's own "So Gangster," which was perfectly executed and well-received. Erika Dee's crisp, deep effects, wobbly basslines and popping beats were deceptively simple, creating funky yet subtle support for the lyrics and harmonizing taking place above the melody. Evy Jane, the other singer, had a lingering, haunting voice; she sang the opening stanza of "You Don't Own Me" a capella before Dee dropped in some serious funky beats and they moved into a different track. The three of them worked well together, sharing the stage, full of charisma and clearly having fun. Pigeon John closed with "Excuse Me," a slightly less freewheeling tune, and then the trio left the stage. See DJ Shadow at the Ogden slideshow. DJ Shadow entered a giant sphere set in the middle of the stage, which began glowing with red and green lights, morphing into a robotic-appearing globe, then appearing to spin, while deep, low, clear beats filled the room, and bits and pieces of "What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 2)," including a distorted, scratched-up version of the line "Does anyone remember who I am" were dropped into the mix. The sphere displayed photos of Denver, then an image like our solar system, and crashing sounds like pots and pans entered the soundscape. Shadow played tracks from across his catalog, experimenting with noises like deep, dirty basslines and frantic tempos, then throwing on top his incredible turntablism skills; his wild scratching has to be heard to be believed. The sphere and screen behind it were an integral part of the show; at one point, the word "Remix' and a chainsaw floated across the screen, appearing to cut the sphere in half. We were treated to snippets of "Walkie Talkie" with deep basslines and high squiggles, and a KRS-One lyric or two thrown in for good measure. "Fixed Income" and "Organ Donor" were also on the playlist; the sphere spun around several times, occasionally revealing Shadow so we could enjoy his enthusiasm and his immense skills manipulating his astounding record collection (as well as drop in live effects when he saw fit). The sphere continued to accentuate the amazing tunes bumping out of the system, becoming a Rubik's Cube, an eyeball, the Death Star and other round objects -- or just appearing to reflect gorgeous landscapes and human monuments, or displaying intricate geometric patterns, or video of DJ Shadow mixing his magic. Visual artist Ben Stokes was at the side of the stage, creating the content we watched; it was spectacular. Sometimes Shadow's set took on more of a hardcore/hard house feel; sometimes it was clearly hip-hop based; and for a glorious chunk of the set, he dropped, hard, dirty, insistent drum-and-bass, the beat skittering quickly atop the dark, unholy basslines. He would slow the mix down to breakbeats occasionally, but thankfully kept revving it back up at just the right moment. There were angry vocals demanding, "I wanna listen to some records," and then Shadow moved from this hard drum-and-bass to the opening strains of "Six Days" -- true to form, he added more complex, fast-paced beats to this crowd-pleaser, then moving into jazzy, lighter territory. When the lights came up before the encore, Shadow told the crowd how long he'd been a DJ -- 26 years -- and said, "I'm always trying something new, something different. I feel like if I step up my game, my peers will step up their game, and music will continue to evolve."
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See DJ Shadow at the Ogden slideshow.
After those words of wisdom and a few more minutes of music, he left the stage, only to return at the crowd's noisy demand and play a soft, lullaby-like tune with sweet violin and piano lines before bringing in a crashing bassline and then moving into a sassy beat over which to showcase his scratching. We heard intelligent drumlines, high-pitched wobbles and a long, racing guitar line before the credits began rolling across the sphere.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I love DJ Shadow's sound, and as a big drum-and-bass fan, this set was amazing. I danced my ass off. And I love underground hip-hop, so Pigeon John was a perfect opener to watch. Random Detail: Some haters next to me were yelling, "Where are your turntables, DJ?" Um ... guys? He couldn't do all the shit he's doing on stage with just two turntables and a mixer. Leave the genius alone. By the Way: Shadow says he's working on a new album -- this was his second-to-last show on tour, and he'll be polishing up the new work after that -- and he played a new song, "I Gotta Rock." If it's any indication of the album as a whole, then it's going to be another DJ Shadow grand-slam.