Run The Jewels @ Métropolis - February 21st, 2017

The increasingly upward trajectory of the duo known as Run The Jewels has been an absolute joy to watch through the last few short years. Bad timing and bad luck in the past had robbed me of the chance to see them live—including one rescheduled Montreal show due to a truck fire that destroyed some of their gear and merchandise—but finally, I found myself with a ticket to the hottest show in town.

The Metropolis was already almost full when I arrived to the sold-out show, and the opening acts rewarded the early comers with an entertaining mix of RTJ-friendly ingredients. The first one up was Brooklyn DJ and producer Nick Hook who, among other things, was the recording engineer of the first Run The Jewels record back in 2013, and who was celebrating his birthday that night. Those were just two of the things that Hook mentioned in his constant jawing with the crowd, in between heavy bass drops, modern hip-hop gems and electronic sampling (including taking a snippet of Franco’s talk radio and turning it into a glitchy sample). Rather than being an opening act, Hook was more of a toastmaster and an appetizer, providing the first course to the night’s entertainment—and doing it expertly, I might add.

Jabbering with Hook on a live mic even before she got on stage, Gangsta Boo was up next. She delivered a loud and proud, ratched and raucous set of hip-hop from down south of the decency line. Hearing her spit from her Three 6 Mafia roots, clad in gold chains and a black Ramones T-shirt, she brought us a lovely mix of tales from the deepest darkest reaches of the world that your average soccer mom wouldn’t dare to tread. In between tracks like "Nasty Trick,” "Meet The Devil,” and “Weed and Cocaine,” she was downright bubbly and affectionate with the crowd, telling us all how honoured she was to be in Canada and to be invited to play with the likes of RTJ. She also acknowledged how lucky the crowd was to be there, saying she would have "killed to have had the opportunity to see Kurt Cobain, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone" live, and implying El-P and Killer Mike in that same company. It was heartwarming hype, and it would not be the last time that sentiment would strike me that night.

Although sloppy and awkward, Hook and Boo invited people from the audience to participate in their finale, appointing people to make beats and play keys, and one kid to MC (and I use that term loosely). It was handled well and rather endearingly, but I don’t think that track they made will be on any mixtape in 2017.

The final stop before the main event was The Gaslamp Killer, who is a DJ from Los Angeles and has been on tour with RTJ since the start of the 2017. He was an amazing template for the DJ-as-performer ideal. His rig included a laptop, a sampler, a microphone, and a tablet designed to mess with the songs to a further layer, and his music selection was diverse, pulling from many times and places. To illustrate what I mean, picture a song starting off as an old slow jam. Put a bass drop in there with buzzsaw drums, then move through Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, old Metallica. Finally, move your set into a full 8-Bit tribute to Jay-Z, and finish that off with music from Legend of Zelda—you now have a rough sketch of what we were treated to from GLK. This is nothing compared to the way he moved and looked while he performed: frenetic, spastic, and with the appearance of Animal from The Muppets on pills. At the close of the set, another dash of impassioned sincerity was uprooted by GLK, who expressed his thanks for being included in the tour. He also mentioned some factoids like: Run The Jewels 3 was number one on the Billboard charts despite being a self-released album, Killer Mike has an upcoming meeting with Bernie Sanders, and mayors of cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Atlanta, were in attendance at recent shows. The table was now set for the main course, and for the first time all night, we had a break from the barrage.

After the break, the lights came down and out sauntered Killer Mike and El-P with their DJ Trackstar to the Queen song “We Are the Champions”, a feel-good start from the jump. Without a delay, they blazed into “Talk To Me”, followed by “Legend Has It” and “Call Ticketron,” all from RTJ3. The crowd ate it up, chanting along to the hooks. The set was very well balanced between all three volumes of RTJ’s output, and even included the DJ Shadow track “Nobody Speak” for good measure. Gangsta Boo, who had previously foreshadowed a return, came out to rap for one of the night’s highlights, “Love Again,” this time dressed up to the nines and gyrating like an oil derrick. El-P jokingly teased retirement to instead focus on a new career in spoken word poetry, which turned out to be  an intro to “Panther Like a Panther.” Their fury at the current state of the United States was underlined by the cynical approach to the intro for “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” looking at the powers as merely crooks that made it to the top floor.

The lighting was varied and made for an exciting presentation of the duo, from twirling spotlights to strobes and colours of all kinds. The vibe remained positive, and even included a point in time where the duo reminded the audience to pick up people if they fall, give ladies some space. As a final instruction, Killer Mike had everyone in the crowd take one step back to alleviate some of the folks up front. The atmosphere created was free, fun, safe, and respectful to others, which is always nice.

The set really did a great job at being well-paced and highlighting the approaches of each of RTJ’s three releases: RTJ1 is the scrapper, RTJ2 is the animal and RTJ3 is the activist (who happens to enjoy life’s vices). The main set culminated in their eponymous album opener “Run The Jewels” as Killer Mike dedicated it to those that were in on the ground floor with them when they were playing for smaller crowds just a few years prior. Guns and fists were thrown up in the air by everyone (myself included) as we came close to the end of the show. The encore was a one-two punch of “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” from RTJ2 (no Zack de la Rocha feature, but still fantastic), followed by “Down” from RTJ3—an interesting choice to close off, but I suppose the message of the song (keeping hope in times of strife), it was a fitting way to be released out into the wild.

Even though it took me a few tries to get the pleasure to see Run The Jewels, I am thrilled to have now experienced this duo. Their friends provide unabashed joy at their craft, making a packed house scream lyrics in unison, dance and sweat together for an unforgettable Blockbuster Night.