RJD2 chills out Chicago’s Metro (12/3)

The cold weather in Chicago couldn’t keep the fans away from a mellow night of electronic pleasure on December 3rd; the Metro was packed with cheerfully drunk, relaxed patrons all looking forward to a set by RJD2. But first, Bryan Ford and Goulet got things started with a short set that featured Goulet playing with a synth and keyboard, occasionally switching to the bass he wore strapped to his back (and sometimes playing the bass and keys at the same time). The texture of the music was driven by Ford on the drums, coloring and accenting the synthesizer’s beats with a vivacity that electronic music often lacks.

RJD2 came on to a well-warmed crowd. He emerged dressed in a welder’s mask and bedazzled jumpsuit as “Commissioner Crotchbuttons”, a voice-altered, robotic version of himself. True to his name, he wore a swiveling button panel attached to his belt and cashed in on that old mathematical equation: robot costume + robot dancing + robot playing electronic music on buttons fastened over his crotch = happy crowd.

“But you came to see RJD2!” the robot shouted electronically before dashing off stage. He returned as himself, the unassuming RJD2 (aka Ramble John Krohn), in a white t-shirt. RJD2, in fact, looks so… normal, that you’d never spot him on a city bus or at the game or something; he’d fit right in. That’s a kind of fame most celebrities wish they had. But maybe it’s because it’s not so much what he looks like as what he does that makes RJD2 famous.

And what he does is phenomenal: He mixes basically every element of his music by hand. He had a garage-sale’s worth of turntables and tangled cords spread out on a table made of cinder blocks, and he dashed between that and a stand of records in the back, frantically searching for the right one, flipping it carefully in his hands and sliding it expertly onto the turntable. He tweaked buttons, pulled levers, dropped the beat down and raised it back up—all by hand. It was amazing to see a physical motion to accompany every sound. After seeing this guy live, I scoff in the face of so-called DJs who show up carrying only a laptop.

As exciting as his music got, the room was very chilled out. People cheered and danced and raised their beer glasses but remained otherwise cool and composed. RJ played a mix of older and newer material; his older pieces got an especially strong crowd reaction. “The Horror”, “Final Frontier”, and “Ghostwriter” were particularly well received. Of course, he also played the Mad Men song, aka “A Beautiful Mine”, and while the crowd cheered at its famous beginning, they seemed even more excited to hear the song spin out into its full glory, of which the Mad Men excerpt is but a short part.

Towards the end of his set, RJD2 slipped almost unnoticed back into the Commissioner Crotchbuttons ensemble and robot-piloted his way through the end of the set. He reemerged as himself again for a short encore. He first strapped on an acoustic guitar and played a quiet version of “Making Days Longer” before returning to his turntables to spin one more for an appreciative crowd. As the night ended, the chilled-out audience emerged into a chilled-out wonderland; Chicago’s first snow of winter had begun during the show, and the world was one giant snow globe, a beautiful ending to a beautiful night of ambient electronic bliss.


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