In the capable hands of DJ Shadow, no song is sacrosanct. That’s especially true of his own work, which the Bay Area beatmaker and producer has been releasing since the early ‘90s.
Throughout his sold-out performance last Monday at Revolution Hall, he attacked his songs with the blunted glee of a dub magician like Lee “Scratch” Perry or King Tubby. Vocal and synth hooks were twisted into parabolic shapes, beats were deconstructed through his scratching or reconsidered with the help of electronic percussion. Shadow gave the crowd enough of a song to elicit cheers of recognition before the musical taffy pulling began.
The set was a remarkable tightrope walk of rehearsed structures and improvised whimsy. And it was potentially frustrating to anyone looking for a nostalgic trip centered on Shadow’s breakthrough album, the 1996 masterwork Endtroducing…. For this tour, he concentrated primarily on the back half of, according to his comments onstage, his 40-year career as a DJ.
Recent collaborations with rappers like Pusha T, Nas, and Run The Jewels took precedence, as did choice cuts from Action Adventure, his latest album. Throughout them, Shadow embedded sonic morsels of the past to prick up the ears of the crowd: a sample of “Holy Calamity,” the track he produced for Handsome Boy Modeling School, here; a bit of Endtroducing.…'s “The Number Song” there. He tantalized and teased where others might have cajoled.
Shadow’s devotion to more recent trends in his chosen field was also evident in his pick for the opening act, DJ and producer Holly. Hot on the heels of his work on Danny Brown’s latest album, the young Portuguese artist made an immediate splash with a set that stitched together devilish edits of Burial, DMX, and Roy Ayers classics with his original beats and compositions.