Live DC: Deltron 3030 @ Howard Theatre
Brandon Wetherbee | Oct 15, 2013 | 11:00AM |

Photos By Jeremy Kim, Review By Robert Winship

Deltron 3030 was a thoroughly executed and wonderfully textured dystopian rap-battle epic. In 2000, Deltron’s world was fully realized and played out vividly among a cast of characters, like a futuristic hip-hop hologram. While Deltron: Event II is an excellent sonic successor, it does not quite exhibit the same devotion to a story. Given the 13-year gap between records, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Dan the Automator have accomplished something noteworthy in recapturing the same weird magic over a decade later. And, as exciting as it was to see this unfold live, it is possible that some great records exist best on record. Any non-skit track off either album can’t help but translate well live. Whether a fleet-footed lyrical jungle-runner like “Positive Contact” or the dichotomy Del’s upbeat narrative style played out over the haunted warble of Jamie Cullum’s voice on “Do You Remember?,” these records paint pictures without much live legwork.

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The experience of this Deltron show is related to the first movie adaptation of a comic book. In this case the ‘movie version’ doesn’t play up to expectations. Something like The Watchmen, it ends up a beautiful, face-value product. While I struggle to be critical of live performance outside of the truly terrible (say, the current state of Bad Brains’ HR), Del drew a line in the sand of live music expectations. For the kind of project that Deltron 3030/Event II is, a live show should be something more than the sum of its instrumental parts. In Del’s favor, the DC stop was one of a few performances which did not include a 16-piece “3030 Orchestra” which would have helped boost the drama of the show. Still there was a lack of fusion between the main players, Dan the Automator and Del which hampered the pace.

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If there was a standout performance, it was Kid Koala pulling turntable duties as the opening mixmaster as well as an active component in the Deltron set. Kid’s fidelity to his art began with a declaration that he didn’t have a laptop or headphones. He frequently improvised with three decks and a stack of naked LPs, dropping hip-hop staples from the Beastie Boys and Outkast and working with chunky riff-rock from the White Stripes. At one point, Kid queried the crowd, “You guys want to hear my 5-year-old daughter’s favorite song?” before proceeding into a Yo Gabba Gabba! track from his time on their tour. Getting a crowd of hip-hop fans to act out the motions of a Yo Gabba Gabba! song showed just how much Kid had the venue under his spell.

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Del spent the night behind bug-eyed shades, reciting his lines with perfect cadence. He did not do much beyond that to stand out. Most disconcerting was Dan the Automator, who played a kind of hype-man for the show, a position for which he is not well-equipped. Dan worked intermittently from a sound deck and computer, and while he and Del struggled to strike a balance, Kid Koala touted fresh energy on the 1s and 2s situated in front of the also-compelling live band. Dan and Del’s call-and-response on “Mastermind” was funny and casual, but failed to materialize elsewhere.

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“A lot of people say ‘Fuck you!’ Thank you for not saying fuck off to us,” Del thanked the crowd before returning for an encore. I was tempted to sympathize with him on this. Not every show deserves an encore and it shouldn’t be a given. When it came time to deliver on that demand, the band made popular but weak choice to close with Gorillaz hit “Clint Eastwood,” a song to which Del owes some of his fame. Dropping “Do You Remember?” just prior did made the encore worthwhile. “Clint Eastwood” is an excellent track, but it exemplified the tendency of Del to rest on the laurels of collaborative work instead of taking hold of the venue to let his own voice break through. Make no mistake, almost every Deltron track is iconic and nearly everyone in the room was fully on board with show, but being a standout artist means that the stakes are higher. In this case, Del seemed happy to call it.

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Setlist
State of the Nation
3030
Things You Can Do
Positive Contact
Stardate
The Return
City Rising From The Ashes
Mastermind
Melding of the Minds
The Agony
Pay the Price
Virus
My Only Love
Nobody Can
Memory Loss

Encore
Do You Remember
Clint Eastwood

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