"Shad-ow! Shad-ow! Shad-ow! Shad-ow!" bellows the crowd. If DJ Shadow had any doubts about his reception in Brixton, they were quelled in double-quick time. This was less DJ Shadow than FC Shadow.
The 33-year-old Californian, otherwise known as Josh Davis, had grounds for concern. His pioneering 1996 calling card, the sample symphony Endtroducing, and its sequel, 2002's The Private Press, are astonishing, still-influential totems. But the long-awaited follow-up, The Outsider, has appalled many fans.
Most heinously, it features bullish rap tracks in the rowdy San Francisco Bay Area "hyphy" style. It is also the first solo album on which he has forsaken his signature prog-hop bricolage for conventional folk and indie-pop song structures. He's been accused of rank commercialism. But the album has some genuine high points, not least the vigorous excursions into hyphy. And his London fans appear to agree. So why was tonight ultimately unsatisfying?
The DJ gig is a tough sell, for obvious reasons. But Shadow's beat-collage odysseys, which revel in the element of surprise, can be hypnotising. And the first impressions were good. As the drum rolls to "Outsider Intro" kicked in and the curtain fell, the "Shad-ow!" rallying cry went out loud and clear. The man of the hour climbed up to a raised platform set in the middle of a huge bank of screens, and promised to provide a show in which his body of work would be "chopped up and spat back out". He did that, for sure. It's just that some of it wasn't very appetising.
The problem was that his show now has to make room for guest performances. Which is fine if it's Thom Yorke, who has appeared with Shadow in the past to sing "Rabbit in Your Headlights". But not if it's Chris James, front man of the Leeds band Stateless. He made an indie Stars in Their Eyes fist of the Radiohead-lite anthems "You Made It" and "Erase You". "You Made It" is about the survival of Shadow's twin daughters, who nearly died of a rare medical condition at birth. If Shadow wants to address personal themes now, great. But he'll need more than James to do it live. Erase you? The poor guy slowly expunged himself.
More compelling was the West Coast rapper Lateef the Truth Speaker, who spat some fine rhymes on "Mashing on the Motorway" and the funky "Enuff". But he then spent an eternity enjoining the crowd to "make some noise". By about the fourth exhortation, I'd had enuff, for real. It was telling that the moments when the crowd made the most noise unprompted were when Shadow was left to his improvisational layering.
Endtroducing's Axelrodian "Organ Grinder" got the loudest cheer of the night. "Six Days", The Private Press's plaintive psych-soul nugget, was thrilling, set to piledriving breakbeats. Much of the new stuff was equally good. The dance-rocker "The Tiger" is a stodgy thing, and "Triplicate", which kicked off the encore, is a fistful of spaghetti-Western clichés. But the new rap tracks were a treat.
Shadow laid a bladder-squishing bassline over David Banner's anti-Bush raps on the beefy "Seein' Thangs", and "3 Freaks", "Dat's My Part" and "Turf Dancing" had a jarring, roughneck energy. "This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way)", the new album's mission statement, was a corker, too - a lustrous soul pearl in the vein of Dan Penn's "If Love Was Money".
But the dazzling, synchronised visuals - of whirring machinery, a Katrina-blighted New Orleans, and much else - and some ferocious scratch attacks couldn't make up for a fatal lack of grip and focus. "I really enjoyed myself tonight," said Shadow at the close. No one would deny the "Ennio Morricone of hip-hop" that. But James is no Clint Eastwood, and Shadow needs to bite the cheroot and tighten the script.Reuse content