DJ Shadow in Madison @ Majestic Theater [Show Review]

In an age where music genres are wordier than the “Driver’s Handbook” at your local DMV, artists like DJ Shadow remind me why. After witnessing DJ Shadow’s performance at the Majestic Theatre in Madison, I pity the fool that tries to categorize his style (yes, that was a Mr. T reference). His set was a medley of drum n bass, trap, and heavy hip-hop instrumentals, all with a hint of edm.

His versatility would have been apparent to a deaf man simply observing the crowd, which consisted of as diverse a group of characters as I have seen at a show in Madison; half of which were going nuts on the dance floor as the others fadedly observed from the upper deck. Like the seated observers, I expected more of a laid back, spacey, primarily trip-hop set from the man that necessitated the phrase “trip-hop”, but I received a blessing in disguise in the form of an absolute rager.

DJ Shadow’s well-deserved reputation often precedes him. Spinning eclectic sounds, tempos, and vibes takes some serious technical ability. Much of what the crowd witnessed, I had not previously realized was possible on a standard set of CDJ 2000s and a DJM 900 mixer. If those names look like they belong on a rocket headed to Mars, check out our article on the progression of DJ technology to get clued in.

In terms of specifics, a few things particularly wowed me. DJing is all about lining up the beat; DJ Shadow fearlessly ventured out of the standard 4-4 time signature, mixing tracks of varying signatures while transitioning across wide swaths of tempo. Vinyl-eque scratching coupled with live cueing and other sneaky techniques enabled him to move from a trap tempo of around 90 beats per minute to drum n bass, which generally falls closer to 168 BPM.

Impressive moves like that work wonders for the show’s vibes, whether or not the average onlooker knows that DJs normally only shift about 5 BMP at a time. Few things about a DJ Shadow set can be described as normal: DJs normally don’t stray from the genre that they pioneered for an entire set, DJs normally don’t bust out drum sticks for an electronic drum solo in the middle of their shows, DJs normally don’t… you get my point. He is one of few modern DJs worthy of the “one man band” label.

Rocking a San Francisco hat, DJ Shadow cunningly negotiated the line between chill and rowdy, like the city he chose to represent, like the crowd he catered his set to.

-Kody Greenbaum & Benjamin Kimo Twichell