Photos By Emily Cohen, Words By Jeb Gavin
We are all chasing a moment. An instant which takes us out of time, allowing whatever nonsense we might have trapped in our mind to ebb away for however long that moment lasts. The most socially acceptable form of chasing this moment is art, and so as an audience, as consumers of art, we do things like go to concerts. By this metric, it is the goal of the artist to capture your attention for as long as possible, as long as is necessary. It can be asymmetric, one artist creating moments for hundreds of people, but that’s the nature of the dynamic: creators make moments, and we hope to experience them.
I bring this up because I see quite a few concerts and shows every year. I am tramping around, in search of anything to tamp down the ruckus between my ears. It has to be art- I crave the connection in a way that makes chemicals feel like a phone call unanswered. Music keeps me chasing that moment where sound washes my thoughts away. Given all the variables, the nonlinear dynamics of an evening out -on my side as an audience member and the effort involved on the part of an artist- it’s a statistical impossibility anyone would be able to find these moments.
Sunday night RJD2 played the 9:30 Club. I’ve seen him play shows before, other gimmicks, other sets. I always enjoy his shows, in part because I identify with him as a music nerd. Even when commanding four decks and two samplers he gives off this vibe of a kid who just desperately wants to share with you something amazing. That I get. It’s why I’m writing this now.
This show wasn’t the most technically proficient set I’ve seen him perform. He opened and closed with Commander Crotch Buttons, but never pulled out Donkey Kong, a bit he does where he plays the music of the video game on a sampler painted to resemble a level of the same with a finger puppet Mario. The whole thing was projected on the screen above him. It’s an interlude, but I always found it clever. I always intellectualized it. Finding it clever meant thinking about it, and thinking meant being outside looking in.
It wasn’t until after the show I found myself making notes. I remember the paranoid heavy metal freakout he performed with a bassist and drummer while “playing” all the other instruments on a keypad. The way they seemed to jam for 20 minutes on end, cycling through metal and jazz and even a little boogaloo, all while RJ scrambled to rewire a keyboard and the bass amp. Somehow, none of this pulled me out of the moment. The tension I felt in watching him scramble, the fear he wouldn’t make it back in front of the keys in time was like watching a ball in the air as time dwindles. The come from behind victory sparking primal, pack mentality elation. Normally at this point I’m over in the corner trying to pick out samples. Even on a good night, I dance a bit, write a bit, people watch. Not Sunday.
RJ confessed in an interview two weeks ago he tried harder at the 9:30 Club working to erase some psychic debt for once playing a bad show. For 90 minutes, he more than redeemed himself. Right around the time they started into “Ghostwriter,” RJ was running between the keyboard to strap on his guitar, then over to the sampler and on back to play guitar in front of the keyboard. Even though he might’ve moved fast, I saw an artist on stage not desperate for attention. I pictured myself with the sort of creative freedom and skill to make the thoughts in my head come out into the world. The freedom and skill to form these thoughts on the fly, and to pass them on to a sold out crowd. He forged mutual connection in an instant, held for as long as we cared to offer our attention. Sunday I had a moment, and RJD2 made it happen. I know of no higher praise to offer an artist.