DJ Shadow Delivered a Brilliant Set (Wearing the Wrong Hat) at Teragram Ballroom

DJ Shadow
Teragram Ballroom

“My hat says San Francisco but we can all be friends tonight.” Damn, dude…

Pretty bold words for a late-September evening in the heart of Los Angeles, smack dab in the newly gentrified downtown area west of Skid Row. With the Dodgers having clinched the NL West last weekend, and the Giants struggling to keep their heads above water for a wildcard spot, it was a pretty safe thing to say.

Say the reverse up in the Bay area right now, and maybe you can’t go home again. But, hey, here’s a story about being free in the weird and wonderful City of Angels.

Not that I give a fuck about California baseball in the first place. I wore my blue Milwaukee Brewers hat to the show; I represent 30.5 games out of the division lead, having spent the last nine Octobers listening to AM 570 with a sense of schadenfreude. Maybe I am learning to empathize with my home-away-from-home team. Maybe nah.

Baseball aside, it takes a lot to get me out of my North County confines on a weeknight, but Josh Davis (DJ Shadow) and I go a long way back. He turns up memories of stoned nights on the chessboard at Marquette University around the turn of the millennium, Endtroducing on my multi-disc changer, setting the ambiance on thirsty Thursday nights similar to this one. Has it been 15, 18, 20 years? My god.

This would be a night of Shadow originals, mostly—somewhat irregular given that the San Jose prog-turntablist / producer made his name sampling some of the most obscure vinyl records in the Western hemisphere. Tonight he was not so much plumbing the great musical depths he famously unearthed from Records’ shop in Sacramento, but there were plenty of slick turntable acrobatics that turned me onto Davis in the beginning.

You didn’t hear as much as a wicka-wah until the fifth song of the set. Up until then, the audience tasted 16-bit arpeggios intermeshed into solar plexus-rattling low end, hallmarks of Davis’ latest LP, The Mountain Will Fall. The projection screen behind him captured vintage ‘80s sci-fi imagery reminiscent of Michel Tcherevkoff OMNI magazine covers—astronauts, grid-patterns, and fly-by cityscapes.

The first peak of the set came with Shadow spinning up Run the Jewels vocals from “All Due Respect” into the mix. The audience responded, backs of hands pumping in the air, keeping tempo with a sludgy, mid-tempo grind.

Davis then kicked up with energy breaking into “March of Death,” a track he co-created with Rage Against the Machine’s Zack De La Rocha, pushing the affected bassline up loud enough to tickle the lower part of the larynx, as an MC Escher-like staircase animation projected behind the turntable stand on stage.

The audience was treated to a spin of a remixed version “Stem / No Stem,” which had been given the deep-dark treatment by New Jersey iOS beat savant Clams Casino. This is the track Davis is pushing for the 20th anniversary remix of Endtroducing due out later this fall. It it would segue into another classic cut from the album, “Midnight In a Perfect World,” with the original music video—baggy khakis and all—thrown onto the backdrop.

The hit nouveau came at the end with “Nobody Speak,” the Run the Jewels-featured single from Mountain that’s been in heavy rotation all summer on KCRW.

That was it—no encore—just a last minute Sriracha grilled cheese for me before I was back on I-5 South toward Fullerton, without a lane closure to slow me down on this warm, thirsty Thursday SoCal evening.

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