Beards, Blazers & Glasses: RJD2
We're just going to have to get over it. Just like Shadow will never make another Endtroducing, RJD2's never going to make another Deadringer. I know, I know. We were all sorta' hoping that The Third Hand was just a Metal Machine-type aberration, but judging from the vibe I got in an interview I did with RJ last week, it's safe to say that he' s dead-serious about his move away from hip-hop based sample-heavy production towards the Starbucks scented world of Postal Service-esque electro-guitar pop.
And I'm okay with this. Really I am. Granted, as I've already articulated, The Third Hand isn't very good. But it's not as bad as others have made it out to be and if nothing else, it's an earnest and impressive attempt at artistic expansion, one that in and of itself is worth applauding. Truth is RJ could've re-made Deadringer for the rest of his career and no one would've said a word as he collected check after check. licensing his music in car commercials worldwide. Because nothing makes me want a Jaguar more than hearing "Ghostwriter" on loop. But as RJ's album articulated and as he repeated on the phone to me: "I have no interest in ever repeating himself."
So when he rolled through LA for the first time since the wildly over-blown announcement that he was ditching hip-hop, I was curious to see how this whole RJD2 rock-star thing would play out, particularly since the album was recorded in a series of overdubs, necessitating RJ to not only have to adjust to performing sans turntable for the first time in his career, but to also have to learn to play the guitar and sing simultaneously. And while the results may have stopped well short of transcendent, I couldn't help but be impressed by RJ's passion and energy on-stage, as he skittered around, guitar slung over his diminutive frame, with a bushy beard and green Fidel Castro fatigues that made him strongly resemble Woody Allen's erstwhile Cuban dictator in Bananas.
was strange watching RJD2 rock out on electric guitar, backed by a keyboardist, a drummer, and a bassist. But you couldn't help but get a little excited for the dude, finally getting the chance for the first time in his career to step center stage, flex his guitar chops and indulge his inner rock star. Three albums into his career (four if you count his first mixtape/album Your Face or Your Kneecaps), RJ's set covered everything from Deadringer up through The Third Hand. And while he still remains very much a work in progress, he displayed enough skill to quell doubts that he won't continue to improve as he grows more comfortable in his new sonic trappings.
As for RJ's oft-maligned voice, it remains shaky and thin, struggling at times to fill the mid-sized Henry Fonda. Yet his singing clearly improved as the night progressed and as for his newfound love of the guitar, it seemed a surprisingly good fit as backed by razor-sharp session men, RJ rendered stiff, clunky album tracks into funky and loose-limbed numbers. Still, the set's high point came when RJD2 slipped behind the turntables, once again in his comfort zone, manning four turntables simultaneously, a blur of perpetual motion that resembled the scene in Bananas where Woody Allen cross-examines himself.
Backed by grainy black and white video clips playing on a giant video screen, RJ spun old favorites like "The Horror," "Smoke and Mirrors" and "Ghostwriter" sparking hysteria in the capacity crowd and causing everyone to once again remember the raw emotional resonance displayed on his debut. While nothing from his latest record approaches the brilliance of his earlier work, RJ's live show demonstrated a compelling argument for his continued relevance and an interesting glimpse at his artistic evolution. So maybe we'll never get another Deadringer. But I wouldn't be surprised if RJ continues to get better and once again hit similarly great heights (No Postal Service). And if not, he's at the very least a shoo-in to replace Castro.
From The Third Hand
MP3: RJD2-"Get It"
Bonus RJD2 Rarities: (You want these, trust me)
From The Horror EP
MP3: RJD2-"Bus Stop Bitties"
MP3: RJD2-"Final Frontier Remix"
From Definitive Jux Presents II
MP3: RJD2-"I Really Like Your Def Jux Baby Tee"