Run the Jewels proved its worth with a blistering set at the Midland last night

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Run the Jewels with Boots, Fashawn, Cuz Lightyear
Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland
Thursday, October 22

For the full slideshow from last night, go here.

Last night, Run the Jewels — the rap duo composed of Brooklyn’s El-P and Atlanta’s Killer Mike — made their Kansas City debut at the Midland. By the audience turnout and bar-none adulation, you’d have thought they were coming home. Young and not-so-young fans thronged in front of the stage, throwing their hands up in the gun-and-fist symbols that have become the sign of allegiance to Run the Jewels.

The duo walked on a stage bathed in blood-red light and smoke as their DJ, Trackstar, cued up Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” It was a celebratory entrance, as though Run the Jewels was starting the show already victorious, already reveling in the outcome — a feeling that didn’t dissipate over the hourlong set.

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“We knew Kansas City had great barbecue and great people, because people have been nice to us all day,” Mike told the audience, late in the show, “but we had no idea it was going to be like this in here. Thank you so fucking much.”

“We are over-fucking-whelmed,” El-P added. The audience could only roar back.

It’s not hard to understand why Run the Jewels is one of the most buzzing names in rap right now: In October 2014, the duo’s second full-length, Run the Jewels 2, was nearly universally lauded; one Consequence of Sound reviewer suggested that Jay-Z and Kanye should watch the throne. But, truthfully, RTJ doesn’t seem to be aiming for anyone’s crown — that’s what makes their music so raw and enticing. They aren’t trying to win the rap game; they’re playing by their own rules. The duo’s combined vocabulary alone would give your high school English teacher chills; how these two are able to manipulate the language would make her weep. (On “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” El-P invites the haters to run naked backwards through a field of dicks.)

El-P keeps a manic pace, his rhymes flying over the bombastic production — most of which he is responsible for — with a verbal dexterity that the Midland audience did its damnedest to keep up with. What Killer Mike lacks in speed he makes up for with his heavy, violent delivery. Every word from his mouth falls like a giant’s footstep, leaving behind a wound in the earth; it is the perfect voice for the biting social commentary that he lays down on “Lie Cheat Steal.”

There were a lot of standout moments from last night, and that song was one of the top. El-P gave it a solid introduction: “Are you guys as excited as we are for the next however many months for the most amazing, twisted, horrifying television — a.k.a. the American election — to ever bless your screen?

“Here’s my issue,” he continued as the crowd roared. “Maybe someday I’ll be cured of this. But no matter how many times I hear any of these motherfuckers speak, the only words I hear, for some demented reason, are lie, cheat, steal, kill, win — everybody doin’ it!”

That moment came a half hour into Run the Jewels’ set. El-P and Mike were drenched in sweat — the air inside the venue was thick and hot and humming with energy. Interestingly, the brutal bravado of Run the Jewels’ lyrics — and the deliciously NSFW nature of all their songs (see “Love Again”) — presented as a powerfully positive theme in concert. Whatever they might have been saying, El-P and Mike appeared humble, grateful and fiercely determined to give their fans that blockbuster night.

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Looking into the vibrating pit, I’d say they succeeded. When show opener Boots — a producer, songwriter and singer largely known for his contributions to Beyoncé’s last album — joined the duo on stage for the haunting chorus of “Early,” he elected to do some crowd-surfing. That inspired some independent crowd-surfing by audience members a couple songs later. When was the last time that happened at a rap show?

And, strikingly, at the end of the show, the duo was even willfully sentimental. As the beats for “A Christmas Fucking Miracle” were cued up, El-P addressed the crowd.

“I would like to dedicate this song to the person in your life that might not have made it this far,” he said. “If you have someone like that, and you wish they could be here sharing this moment with you, hold your hand up.”

The duo left the stage, returning only moments later for a one-song encore.

“Y’all sound like a fucking prison out here,” El-P said, smiling at the crowd’s enthusiasm.

“We need that energy,” Mike added, before launching into “Angel Duster.” “Lose your minds!”

The audience obeyed.

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Leftovers: Watch out for Boots. His debut album Aquaria will be out November 13. If it’s anything like his slick, industrial set last night, he’ll likely be a household name before long. 

We Are the Champions (Queen song) (Played as RTJ took stage)
Run the Jewels
Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
Blockbuster Night, Part 1
Banana Clipper
36″ Chain
Sea Legs
Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)
Pew Pew Pew
Lie, Cheat, Steal
Early (with Boots)
All Due Respect
Love Again (Akinyele Back)
Get It
A Christmas Fucking Miracle

Angel Duster

For the full slideshow from last night, go here

Categories: Music