Run the Jewels play with extra fire at PNE Forum


Run the Jewels with the Gaslamp Killer, Gangsta Boo, and Nick Hook at the PNE Forum, February 2nd

Alt-hip-hop duo Run the Jewels always play a fiery show, but unsurprisingly, given the current political climate, they played with extra flare when they brought their Run the World tour to the PNE Forum last Wednesday. New York producer Nick Hook warmed up the crowd with selections from his recent debut full-length Relationships. He unabashedly showed off how many artists he’d worked with, shouting out all of them before playing the respective tracks. Right away, he opened with an abridged version of “The Infinite Loop” which featured guitar by the Deftones’ Chino Moreno. He rapped over this and other joints that he cut with the likes of 21 Savage, Young Thug, and one of the rappers for whom he was opening, Run the Jewels’ El-P.

Despite Hook’s impressive résumé though, the crowd never fully got behind his hype-man calls to action like goading them to out-cheer New York, Toronto, and Montréal. They even met a song that repeated the line “Fuck Donald Trump” with lukewarm politeness.

Memphis rapper Gangsta Boo made an attention-grabbing entrance at the half-hour mark, adding some much-needed sizzle to Hook’s set. As he dispensed beats, Boo, the former Three 6 Mafia MC, threw down boastful originals, took an ex-boyfriend to task through song, and performed one of her own collaborations, Yelawolf’s “Throw It Up” which also featured Eminem.

The highpoint of Hook & Boo’s set came when they pulled a couple of kids out of the all-ages audience and let them improv beats and rhymes. There seemed to have been a lot of confusion between Hook and the kid who was designated as the beat-maker, but the South Burnaby boy who got on the mic impressed the crowd, Boo, and Hook with surprising confidence and nascent swagger.

The third opener the Gaslamp Killer sauntered onstage with zero changeovers. Even by simply resembling a slimmer Reggie Watts, the hooded DJ brought a different kind of energy. He nonchalantly set up his turntable and laptop as Hook and Boo finished bouncing around the stage.

It’s impossible to fully describe the Gaslamp Killer musically or visually, but it is possible to trace the provenance of his name: his unorthodox mixes used to kill the vibe in the clubs where he DJed in Los Angeles’s Gaslamp district.

Neither is it impossible to imagine unadventurous ears that would be put off by his sometimes fluid, sometimes volatile confluence of jazz, rock, psychedelia, funk, house, Turkish strings, and specific pieces of pop culture: remixes of the Zelda theme and “The Imperial March” and a Nintendo version of Radiohead’s alt-rock classic “The National Anthem” (which sadly no one seemed to recognize).

The Gaslamp Killer’s stage moves were equally vitalizing. They may have seemed erratic, but he twitched, waved his arms, threw his head, and mimed shooting rifles and machine guns during volleys of beats in near-perfect time with his busy music, a testament to how in control he was of the sounds he was discharging.

Run the Jewels hit the stage with an exclamation mark. “Oh, Vancouver! We came to fuck shit up,” Killer Mike announced as their signature entrance song “We Are the Champions” blared anthemically behind them. “We’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end,” Freddie Mercury sang in 1977, a defiant declaration that sums up RTJ’s present day crusade against oppression.

If Killer Mike and El-P seemed tempered in their spoken invectives against political injustice, it was because they did most of their talking through song. They wasted little time firing off cuts from their ruthless latest album Run the Jewels 3: “Talk to Me”, “Legend Has It”, “Call Tickerton”, “Panther Like a Panther”, “Stay Gold”, “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters”, “Hey Kids (Buyame)” (minus Danny Brown’s maniacal guest verse).

Instead of sounding off with political rants between songs, Killer Mike and El-P spent most of that time advocating positivity. Pick up your fellow moshers if they fall down. If you ever feel disaffected, alone, or depressed, look around and remember that there’s a community of strangers around you that’s into the same shit. Twice when the duo noticed the front row getting crushed against the barricade, they instructed everyone to take one step back. “We want everyone who comes to our shows to feel safe!” RTJ also gave props to the security and crew without whom the show would have been impossible. As a testament to RTJ’s unifying power, this shout-out even got fans fist-bumping and high-fiving the same security guards who had shone Maglites at pot smokers and pulled surfers out of the crowd just moments before. Just as quickly, though, RTJ gave the “F U” to authority, reminding everyone that our government officials work for us, urging us not to let them forget that, and encouraging everyone who had weed on them to light up.

Of course, RTJ threw some older tracks into the mix: the head spinning “Love Again”, their dusty-march DJ Shadow collaboration “Nobody Speak”, the sinister bubbling “Lie, Cheat, Steal”. RTJ repeatedly marveled at having rocketed from playing to rooms of 500 people to now a stadium. So they toasted that milestone by kicking it old school with the first song from their first album, “Run the Jewels”, still a top favourite amongst their fans. RTJ ended with a two-song encore that included their Zack de la Rocha collab “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” and “Down”.

As the Gaslamp Killer said, the best art gets made in times of political turmoil, so at least we’re in for some great art. Killer Mike and El-P have made their most emphatic statement yet with Run the Jewels 3, and as the ravenous Vancouver crowd showed, RTJ is starting fires, one city at a time.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu