[REVIEW & GALLERY] Turntable Wizard RJD2 at the Ogden

Last Saturday night, the good people of The Ogden Theatre and AEG Live brought together RUMTUM, TNERTLE and RJD2 for what promised to be an evening full of funk, hip-hop, groove and capital letters. They delivered exactly that and more.
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Kicking off the evening was John Thomas, or as he is called onstage, RUMTUM. Signed to STS9‘s label, 1320 Artists, he delivered a sample-based live set that would make the label heads proud. Moving seamlessly through tracks with heavy hip-hop and electronic influences, he provided the perfect mood as the venue began to fill.
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The night ticked onward, and the crowd turned toward Denver natives, TNERTLE, to keep their legs moving and their hips shaking. On the stage from left to right featured Jon Kenney on trombone, Alice Kenny on trumpet, Leah Concialdi on saxophone, Ray Salazar on the Mic, Trent Campbell on MIDI Controllers and Bass, Kyle Ayervais on drums, Ty Hughes on guitar and Taylor Steele also on the guitar. Together they form a formidable music making machine. Fusing all of these instrumental elements together in a cohesive way is no easy feat, yet song after song produced infectious harmonies and melodies. The group worked together seamlessly, playing with call and response techniques and allotting time for every member of the band to play a solo. Each solo earned the cheers of the crowd, but the warmest reception came to the only females onstage, Alice Kenny and Leah Concialdi. Leah hopped between soprano, alto, tenor and electric saxophone, putting her own unique flavour into each variation of the instrument. Alice Kenny earned the love of many members of the crowd. Throughout the set, shouts rang out along the lines of “I love you trumpet girl,” and her solos produced infectious roars from the crowd. It was evident that everyone in the band was having a blast, which only made the performance that much more enjoyable.
Photo: Andre Rodriguez © Electronic Colorado
When the smoke cleared and the equipment was ready, it was time for RJD2, or so I thought. The stage was cast into darkness, and a figure walked slowly into the center. The mysterious shadow began to speak, his voice filtered through many electronic effects. Suddenly, parts of his body began to glow red, creating the appearance of an LED skeleton. Around his neck hung some sort of MIDI controller. The figure began to play in drums on the controller and without warning, cut them off. He then proceeded to do the same with a string section. Finally, he started over and built a beat from scratch, layering elements on top of each other until the song was thick with sound. All the while, the suit flashed a variety of colors to accompany the construction of the beat. From where I was standing on the upstairs balcony, it was really quite the spectacle. Then, just as quickly as the figure came onstage, he left.  Leaving the crowd with the message that he was only an opening act.
Photo: Andre Rodriguez © Electronic Colorado
Roughly a 30 seconds later, Ramble Jon Krohn aka RJD2, emerged on stage to thunderous applause. His setup consists of two sets of vinyl turntables, each with their own mixer, an effects rack and a MIDI controller. His hands moved at lightning speeds, scratching effortlessly at the records with a variety of techniques. He runs back and forth between decks, cueing beats, spinning them back, scratching, triggering effects, swapping records and a whole host of other actions I couldn’t process quick enough. Behind him on a stool sat his record bag, half unpacked with all the records sticking out in a diamond shape. This method allowed him to browse through his collection with astonishing speed, since there was no need to even look inside the bag or struggle pulling a record out.
Photo: Andre Rodriguez © Electronic Colorado
At times he built beats from scratch (no pun intended) creating progressions and looping them on top of each other until a full song had been constructed. It was clear that everything he was doing was live experimentation, which made it fascinating to watch as a member of the audience. I must add that from the balcony, there was a much better view of what he was actually doing than what one could see from the pit. The set wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Some scratches were a bit cluttery, or at other times beats weren’t perfectly synced, but none of that took away from the performance. In fact, in my opinion, it added to it. Some performers are so afraid to fail that they never try anything outside their comfort zone. RJD2 seemed to take the opposite approach, stretching the limits of his abilities in front of the crowd. Without errors every now and then, the set would not have been such a success. Occasionally, he would reach out to the crowd and ask if they were still with him, to which the crowd responded with a resounding roar. With an air of relief he adds, “Thank y’all for feeling me. I needed this today.”
Photo: Andre Rodriguez © Electronic Colorado
While his performance was outstanding, one of the most memorable parts of the night had nothing to do with his turntable virtuosity. It started when he left the stage, only for the crowd begin cheering non-stop, for what must have been 45 seconds. The energy was sensational. When he returned to the stage, he wore a massive smile. RJ proceeded to give a heartfelt thank you to the crowd, which snowballed into a profoundly inspiring speech about the current state of the world. A section of his stream of consciousness was captured on Instagram:
Overall, the night was extremely successful, for both the crowd and the artists. The venue was full until the very end, and even then was reluctant to leave. Years of experience have truly shaped RJD2 into a master of his craft. It was a privilege to see the turntable wizard in action. But it wasn’t only RJD2. Each of the opening acts brought something fresh to the table, creating a fantastic evening from start to finish. I’ll end this with the same last words used on stage.
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“You guys are awesome. Thanks Hannah for the cookies. Take care.”
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Written by Hunter Saillen