“So… this is what an electronic-ish jam band feels like”
On April 29th, renowned veteran musician Ramble Jon Krohn (aka RJD2) stopped by Chicago in support of his recent album Dame Fortune for a live set at the Metro. Carting 4 turntables, a Maschine, an MPC drum machine, keyboard and a stage setup for a drummer, bassist, and singer, I was intrigued to see how he’d perform.
As a vinyl DJ, the majority of his earlier set (starting at least before 9:30, when I arrived) entailed watching him run frantically to his crate, cueing up the next song on a turntable before running back to dig up another LP. Knowing now his secret to staying fit, I watched his diverse set unfold ranging from rock, to funk, jazz, the Mad Men theme song, and hip hop. As much as his audience roared with excitement, dancing with beer flying from plastic cups, I couldn’t vibe with his set.
Watching him actually work on stage was fun, but looking down at my feet (ahem, phone) I noticed more zoning out than enjoyment. The set sounded muddy, uneven, with jarring transitions and a somewhat boring music selection. This is inherently a very personal sentiment since those around me seemed to enjoy his music even though I could only focus on finding a wall to lean against.
By 10:30 he was suddenly joined on stage by dudes to now fill the empty drum and bass seats. With this brief transition, RJD2 finally left his DJ set and instead began performing songs from Dame Fortune with his drummer and bassist supporting whatever vinyl he spun. My one favorite song from Dame Fortune (in truth I didn’t care for the album), “Pf Day One” was performed beautifully, until subsequent songs diverged into a strange take on a jam band. I didn’t wear the right shoes for a jam band interlude.
He later brought on two vocalists to perform a few songs with him – one was a John Legend-esque singer and the other a rapper. Their names escaped me due to the din of muddy mic sound and drunken cheers. They offered a much needed change of pace and lended their voices to an otherwise jammy set.
Ultimately, I couldn’t get down with RJD2’s live set. It felt unfocused, like he was trying to do too much in too little time. Maybe a smaller, intimate venue is the best place for him but otherwise it was rough to watch. If you’re a huge fan of RJD2 or funk and soul, check him out. If you’re a Spotify Discover kind of listener, then I’d pass on this tour in light of the awkward Dame Fortune performance. His DJ set is strong(er) but the live act will confuse you.