SHOW REVIEW: RJD2 at The Grog Shop (09.20.14)
Last weekend was a rare treat for Cleveland’s electronic music fans. RJD2’s show was preceded by a Friday appearance by Ghostly International’s synthesizer connoisseur, Com Truise. Awesome back-to-back shows of this type don’t happen here often, as many of the hipper artists in the genre seem to pass us by. As the large crowds on both nights proved, there is an audience for this stuff here.
Saturday began with a performance by Cleveland hip-hop duo, Smoke Screen. For a city that’s overrun with mediocre mainstream rap clones, SS are a breath of fresh air. Their gritty beats and skilled wordplay are reminiscent of early 2000s Definitive Jux artists like Cannibal Ox and Hangar 18. They were joined later in the set for a collaboration with their pal, and fellow local MC/producer, Ghost Noises. Their energetic performance definitely built a nice momentum for the night, and got the enthusiastic crowd completely warmed up. If you haven’t checked them out yet, I advise you do so.
Ohio’s own instrumental hip-hop MPC-wiz/turntablist, RJD2, took the stage dressed in a robot suit with a modified sampler that hung from his belt. This intro routine has become a regular part of his sets, and it always entertains. Ramble John Krohn (yes, that’s his real name) isn’t just likable because of music, but because he’s always incredibly down to earth at his shows, and regardless of his level of success, that never seems to change. He’s come a long way from his early years as a DJ for local Columbus rappers, MHz. These days, he’s definitely doing quite well for himself. His tune, “A Beautiful Mine,” is the theme song for AMC’s smash-hit, Mad Men. Years of hard work and extensive touring has certainly paid off.
Armed with four turntables, mixers, and an old-school MPC 2000XL, RJ goes against the modern wave of artists who use laptops and MIDI controllers. Sometimes you begin to think they’re just checking their e-mail while iTunes plays. With him, you know he’s busting his ass up there. Watching him play out the beats by hand on his sampler, scratch vinyl, and run from table to table like a madman (no pun intended) to make sure each intricate part is just right, is an amazing sight to see. For those who think electronic producers aren’t real musicians, you’ve clearly never been to an RJD2 show before.
His set pretty much covered the gamut of his career, but focused on fan favorites from his first three releases,Deadringer, The Horror (EP), and Since Last We Spoke. This included terrific versions of songs like “Ghostwriter,” “Bus Stop Bitties,” “1976,” and the always beautiful, “Smoke And Mirrors.” My only gripe is that after receiving sub par reviews for 2007’s The Third Hand – an album on which he sang vocals – he rarely plays anything from it. That’s unfortunate, because it’s a pretty stellar record. The crowd seemed happy with his selections, as it was basically split into two factions: people who were dancing and people who were risking head trauma from excessive head nodding. Cleveland was definitely having a good time, and RJ was all smiles as he fed off their good vibes and returned for an encore. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an unhappy concertgoer.
RJ’s show, as well as Com Truise’s, were part of something called the Downtown Festival, which was organized by New York record label, Downtown Records. However, no one in Cleveland seemed to know that this was going on. Held at venues that are on opposite ends of town (Beachland Ballroom, House Of Blues, and Grog Shop), there was virtually no connection between any of the shows. But, if it was responsible for bringing Com Truise and RJD2 to town in one weekend, then I’m extremely grateful for that.