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It's not quite `The Outsider'

At his show, DJ Shadow offers familiar work, ignoring the bold hyphy that's in his latest album.

September 26, 2006|Eric Ducker | Special to The Times

Before he began his set at the Avalon in Hollywood on Sunday night, DJ Shadow told the audience, "You know I like to get the crowd on my side." It was a nice sentiment, even if it wasn't entirely true. For the 15 years that he's been putting out music, Shadow has often pleased, but he has never been known to pander. Ignoring what's expected of him, he has placed responsibility on the listener to get on his level.

When his landmark album "Endtroducing" came out in 1996, DJ Shadow's moody, instrumental constructions were labeled everything from acid jazz to the birth of trip-hop, but he maintained that what he did was hip-hop at its core. He kept this stance with his '80s-inspired follow-up, "The Private Press," his periodic remixes and outside production work, and his new album, "The Outsider," released last Tuesday.

Strangely it is "The Outsider" -- which features the most guest vocalists and shortest average song length of any of his solo projects by far -- that many have had the hardest time wrapping their brains around. Dominated by his takes on the Bay Area rap genre known as hyphy and melancholy British modern rock, then sprinkled with elements that include post-hard-core thrash and breezy late '60s soul, the album has definite strong points but simply doesn't cohere.

DJ Shadow's live shows have often provided clues of how the disparate pieces of his catalog fit together. He doesn't simply re-create the songs live, instead he intricately megamixes them in layers so they bleed and collide into each other.

The hope was that when put into a broader context, the tracks from "The Outsider" would find a greater meaning. But when Shadow promised to get the crowd on his side, what he meant was playing familiar songs from "Endtroducing" both early and often -- starting the night with "Building Steam With a Grain of Salt" and finishing with "Midnight in a Perfect World." The first song from "The Outsider" didn't appear until half an hour in, with the seething roll of "The Tiger"; his explorations in hyphy (possibly the boldest and the best of his new work) were virtually ignored.

When he did delve into songs from "The Outsider," they usually came as stand-alone pieces, with Mississippi rapper David Banner's video image superimposed over satellite footage of a hurricane during "Seein' Thangs," and charmless Stateless singer Chris James appearing in the flesh to perform "Erase You" and "You Made It."

The stage set-up placed DJ Shadow on top of three large video screens, far above the crowd, and behind him were six more screens. The first images projected appeared to be the inner-workings of a machine, but from behind his L-shaped desk covered with lamps, turntables, a laptop and cables, there was no way of telling what he was doing.

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