DJ Shadow Review 3/31/12 Westcott Theatre – Syracuse, NY

In 1997, DJ Shadow came to Syracuse, NY to perform during one of SU’s (often intriguing) music events. The show never happened. Headlining act Nas failed to appear, leaving DJ Shadow, tour mate Jeru The Damaja, and Suzanna Vega pondering a memorable Talking Heads lyric. Entroducing the Divine Design of Luka in a NY State of Mind.

15 years later, much to the awe and surprise of this writer, the musical Renaissance Man returned, and it was about time! Westcott Theatre, whose bookings have just been incredible so far this year, hosted a rare and welcome appearance, and the vibe in the room was electric! BTW… When the hell did hula-hoops get so popular at concerts?

DJ Shadow is a DJ’s DJ… A Mozart of Electronic Culture. In person and during interviews, he is reserved, quiet, and introspective, but his collective output puts him damn near the top of the electronic artist elite. He is a technical genius, forever striving to push the boundaries of what you can do with recorded music. Albums such as “Entroducing,” “The Private Press,” and “Preemptive Strike” are absolute requirements for any electronic music fan, and everyone should listen to and watch “Live! On Time and In Tune” at least once. If you don’t respect DJ Shadow after that, you probably go to raves for the drugs.

Currently touring his latest album, “The Less You Know, The Better,” his performance was stacked with super tight mixes of old and new music. Offering unique twists and turns of revitalized classics, coupled with select cuts of his latest offering, DJ Shadow moulds his events into a non-stop listening party. A heavy focus on Drum and Bass gave the Westcott Theatre a dose of what the dance scene was like in the sweaty, underground clubs of yesteryear. And then, there were the visuals.

Those in attendance will undoubtedly be discussing DJ Shadow’s stage set up, with a strong focus on the white globe that sheltered him throughout his performance. Serving as a primary backdrop for his visual effects, the imagery during his set is stunning, offering lots of animation and bright, blinking lights on the globe and screen behind. Bonus points for the artist renderings of Britney, Beiber, and other pop-tarts as mangled, outdated, or otherwise violently altered caricatures of themselves in a few years time… A taste of what’s to come for many acts that give in to the vacuous existence of Pop-Life.

Though hidden for the first half of his set, DJ Shadow revealed himself to the crowd for the second, giving the audience an up-close and personal view of his wizardry on the decks. A steady hand and stern look of concentration replaces the typical fist pumping, over the top energy many of today’s popular DJ favorites favor to get their crowds riled up. But Mr. Smith isn’t simply lining up the 1 on Serrato… He’s constantly in production-mode.

Admittedly, I would like to see him perform full cuts or an album in its entirety, but DJ Shadow would probably find it unfulfilling to perform this way… There are too many opportunities to embellish and create during his time on stage, and he uses them wisely and well.

NYC band Nerve opened the set, and if you missed it, you missed out. With the inclusion of the sound technician, the 4-piece instrumental group of industry heavyweights, including the legendary Jojo Mayer on drums, arguably played the first set of its kind in Syracuse. In a process they call “Reverse Engineered Electronic Music in Real Time,” Nerve uses real instruments to create astoundingly danceable Drum and Bass, Dubstep, and House music. I’ll next to guarantee that, were you to hear them solely on record, you would expect the songs to have been produced on a computer.

While there are synths and samples occurring during their performance, Takuya Nakamura’s trumpet stabs are made on the spot with a real trumpet prior to processing, John Davis’ thick, droning bass lines are made on an actual bass guitar, and Jojo’s percussive blitzkrieg is right there in front of you, if your eyes can keep up with his blindingly fast chops and flawless technique.

All in all, this was about as perfect a show as I have ever witnessed during my Upstate tenure, and an excellent end to March 2012. I want to personally applaud whoever came up with the idea to bring this excellent group of talent out to Syracuse, and look forward to more events of this caliber passing through our humble city.

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