Tips for catching Run the Jewels live: Be prepared to sweat like hell, leave all valuables at home, be ready to mosh like a 15-year-old metalhead and go to the bar & bathroom beforehand, ‘cos you won’t wanna miss one moment.
The pair, Atlanta’s Killer Mike and Brooklyn’s El-P, have a shit tonne of energy for two 39-year-old blokes in the middle of an international tour. After spending around two decades building up reputations as underground superheroes, reincarnating as Run The Jewels was the final step that thrust them out into the open. While their phenomenal debut album Run The Jewels made us seriously prick up our ears, it’s Run The Jewels 2 that changed the game forever. Not only are they lyrically on point – sex, politics and humour all intertwined – but their songs are just so good. The unparalleled production, hard-hitting beats and slithering, liquid rhythms make each track interesting and goddamn cool. The album topped a LOT of major publications’ end of year lists (Pitchfork, Stereogum, Spin, Billboard, Howl & Echoes etc…) which obviously puts them under pressure to live up to it through their shows, but they make it look like the easiest thing in the world.
I managed to catch RTJ twice in one week, at Falls Festival Byron and Sydney’s Hi-Fi. I could easily see them ten more times. It’s kinda hard to dissect a show as frenzied and energetic as Run The Jewels. Constantly turned up to 11, each beat, each pore is dripping with aggression, sex, and so much fun.
I’ll start by saying this: opening a set with Queen’s We Are The Champions is a fucking brilliant way to begin a set. I hope this never changes.
Something I really love about these guys live is how much fun they have on stage. There’s high-fives and hugs, secret handshakes and booty dancin’. They had big silly grins on their faces the whole time, laughing and bouncing around like a pair of gangsta jumping beans.
The set moved between both albums, with a healthy mix of older and new. The devoted fans really went all out, with almost every song inducing sing-along hooks and call-and-response verses, especially on DDFH, Sea Legs and the incredible satire of Lie, Cheat, Steal. Save for a few choice moments (including bringing a wheelchair-bound punter up on stage,) there wasn’t much banter throughout, keeping the energy high and allowing DJ Trackstar to show off his scratch talents.
Each track was as strong as the next, but a definite highlight was Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck), before which the duo apologised to the front 50 rows for the imminent insanity. Fuck. Insane, it was. While admittedly I was gettin’ my best white-girl-goes-gangsta moves on the whole time, this was something else. I haven’t been in a mosh like that in years, it was great. Love Again was another high point, mostly because of the ridiculously sexual hook (She got my dick in her mouth all day, she want my dick in her mouth all day, etc…) El-P mentioned at Falls that it was his favourite song to play live because it equally made people uncomfortable, and made them laugh. And that really is what happens. I saw it.
The only downside, as is the case with all hip hop shows, was that a big chunk of the crowd were awful. Stinky, sweaty bros who wouldn’t think twice about punching or elbowing you (or biting, or verbally threatening, as we found out at Falls) out of the way, (and not in a this-is-what-happens-in-a-moshpit way, just a i’m-a-violent-dickhead way.) It’s fairly avoidable as long as you aren’t trying to get to the front row, but it always dampens the mood when you’re trying to enjoy the show, and some losers are hell-bent on causing trouble.
The hour-long set went by all too quickly, going from strength to strength to strength, ending on a blistering rendition of Christmas Fucking Miracle. Dripping with sweat, with sore lungs and tired legs, all I wanted was more. Too early to call best gig of the year?