Jukebox'd In: Nate Patrin reviews DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist

Categories: Concert Review

DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist
Feb. 4, 2008
First Avenue
Review by Nate Patrin
Photos by Daniel Corrigan

A half-hour into the Cali turntablists’ all-45-RPM Hard Sell superset – which, up to that point, had included an excruciating synthpop version of “Rock Around the Clock,” a Stars on 45-ish doo-wop recreation of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and a novelty record that fused “Stairway to Heaven” with the theme to “Gilligan’s Island” -- I was in a state of complete bewilderment. I had no idea what to think, even when it came to a basic good/bad judgment call. An hour into the set, I still had no idea what to think – they toyed with some enjoyable but bog-standard Cratedigging 101 breaks (“Apache” slowed to a “Made You Look” crawl, “Cramp Your Style” a la BDP), then segued from that into a masterful all-45 recreation of some of Prince Paul’s classic De La Soul productions.

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More images from the concert in the slideshow.

I still had no idea what to think when I left around the hour-forty-five mark – it was maybe a bit early, but by that point I’d already heard Billy Squier’s “Big Beat” break turned into the backbone of a bellydancer trance number, a scratching/sparring contest between the two DJs transmogrified into a dueling rendition of bullfighter rally music, and a hallucinogenic doo-wop “couples-only” set that went from the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You” to Eddie Holman’s “This Can’t Be True” and then, bizarrely, into a version of the doo-wop song “Charlene” that seemed to be sung by a drunk robot with head trauma. (This was referred to as “the worst song ever.” I wasn’t exactly expecting to hear the worst song ever during this set, I’ll say that much.)

Once they got to the point where they were playing wobbly warped droning acid freakouts using 7” records with the spindle hole off-centered, I fled in the fear that I would forget how music actually worked. If this meant that I’d miss out on the possibility of getting to see a bit they’ve done on other shows on this tour -- both DJs scratching out speed-metal solos with Metallica 7” records on hip-mounted mini-record player – so be it. So I’m writing this now without any real idea what to think, I’ll fall asleep about hour from now not knowing what to think, and will wake up in the morning unable to find anything to even help me formulate an actual opinion other than “man, that was some crazy shit.”

Sure, the visuals might have had something to do with it: there were cameras set up at strategic points around Shadow and Chemist’s row of turntables, and Chemist went so far as to actually strap some sort of minicam to the underside of his wrist so we got to frequently see a bizarre fish-eye view of a gigantic palm and teeny tiny stubby fingers flipping through 45s. There were also copious visuals, including a funny takeoff of the James Bond film intros using the UNI label, weird cut-ups of the late ‘50s GM Motorama industry short “Design for Dreaming,” lots of shots of internal jukebox components doing their thing, and some deadly ninja throwing disc action. (There was also a kind of reoccurring, cloying vinyl-snob motif where a robot jukebox destroyed iPods using lasers – c’mon, like Timmy Thomas said, why can’t we live together?)

Maybe whether or not it was an easily-accessible party-rocking show is beside the point. Sometimes it was (the De La bit; brief mini-sets of electro and garage psych), sometimes it wasn’t (the aforementioned ow-my-head drone stuff), but aside from the couple slip-ups pretty much every turntable-based show I’ve seen at First Ave have to work around early, the sheer skill and craft required to actually pull this off was staggering. An intro video designed to tutor the uninitiated (“aren’t they just playing other peoples’ records?” Answer: no) made it a point to show just how tricky it was to DJ with 45s compared to the larger, easier-to-grip and generally more-stable 12” standard, and considering the only augmentation these DJs had was a guitar pedal that let them create loops on the fly, hearing and more importantly seeing all this craziness in real time go off about 98% hitch-free really drove things home. So maybe I do know one thing to think about this show, and that’s the thought that as potentially alienating as the set got at points, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before from a DJ set. OK, maybe a second thing: I kinda want to buy a jukebox now.
--Nate Patrin

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