“No mash-ups and top-ten hits. Pretty much everything you hear tonight is a song of mine, or something I wrote.” Addressing the crowd from inside his DJ sphere, Shadow announces a disclaimer to a surprisingly full Hordern Pavilion. On a weekend when it seems like the entirety of Australia’s East Coast is at Splendour In The Grass, or sulking at home because they‘re not, the draw of DJ Shadow managed to coax out a fair cross-section of the Sydney punters. From nerdy, bearded trench-coaters, to over-weight, silver-haired couples to skinny kids not yet old enough to buy a beer (yep, it was an all-ages gig), this was certainly musical cohabitation on a grand scale. Also there, sniffing left and right, was a large brigade of Police labradors that mingled through the crowd all night.
I’d been keen to catch the local support act Ghoul for a while now, but unfortunately tonight, the cavernous and sparsely filled Hordern Pavilion didn’t do their skittery brand of subtle experimentalism any favours. I’ll definitely be seeking a more intimate setting when I venture out to catch them next time. Billed as second headliner, Midnight Juggernauts were only DJing for this run of shows. Although their expected mix of indie-electronica and synth-pop was fun, it was hardly anything to warrant gushing accolades. It did, however, serve its purpose to keep the crowd in a good mood for the headliner, Josh Davis aka DJ Shadow.
From inside his now famous DJ booth sphere, the crowd only experienced aural sensation, but it wasn’t long before his visual show began. Lightning struck through hyperspace backdrops as Shadow got underway. Starting with a track from Pre-emptive Strike, he soon moved onto Building Steam with a Grain of Salt from his classic Endtroducing… LP. From the very start, his foot is on the accelerator. He plows through old jungle cuts and bass-heavy beats, layering precision scratches over the top. The crowd gets raucous when he drops Walkie Talkie, especially as the visuals on the orb, still secreting the elusive Shadow, show Simon Cowell, Nicole Richie and Justin Bieber meeting horrible deaths.
As his DJ booth/orb visuals morphed from the Deathstar, to a pinball, to various sporting equipment, Shadow dropped some hip hop, presumably from his work with the Solesides crew, before dropping his absolutely gorgeous This Time (I’m Going To Try It My Way) before launching the monstrous Red Alert. At the conclusion of this, Shadow’s DJ Orb starts to rotate and at last the crowd gets to see the man they paid their money for.
After a quick chat he introduces his new song I Gotta Rock. It’s a heavy sludgy beat without much variance, but it allows him to go crazy on his MPC. Using actual drum sticks to trigger his drums, he bounced snares and kicks around the Hordern as the crowd bounces with them. From his 2010 single Def Surrounds Us he took it back to 1995, scratching flawlessly over some old rave breaks. This was a particularly bright moment for the middle-aged, glow-stick waving raver a couple rows back from me who yelled in appreciation. The rest of the crowd joined him moments later when Six Days dropped. The original mix brought smiles all around but when he dropped a heavy drum n bass beat over the top, the place erupted in a tumult of limbs and jumping bodies. It was the defining moment of the entire set for me, to witness 5,000 + people jumping in time with the main lights switched on. He continued this drum n bass onslaught through to the end (including a L’il Wayne A Milli Remix) before playing what everyone came to hear; The classic Organ Donor. Playing the entire piece on MPC, the ad lib differences to the studio version sounded amazing. It was a fitting end to the show, but the crowd wasn’t letting him get away that easy..
A chant of “Sha-Dow Sha-Dow” went up around the dance floor, which dragged him back on stage. He raises his finger, indicating ‘one more’ then hops back into his bubble. In a blistering fifteen extra minutes he plays a medley of soul ballads, techno, acid rave and his massive High Noon, all the while playing drum solos on his drum machine.
There’s not many times when I say that I’ve been to a show that nears perfection. But Shadow, with his flawless aural and visual stage show, certainly comes close.