The righteously vitriolic rap duo Run the Jewels underwent an implausible transformation at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Monday.
Run the Jewels’ three albums of original songs are loaded with explosive protest anthems and salacious odes to sensual pleasures. Yet the duo of Killer Mike and El-P behaved like cheerful buddies enjoying a carefree night on the town during their 65-minute appearance.
About 2,600 admirers witnessed the pleasantly peculiar metamorphosis. Both men are 41 and have dedicated their professional lives to hip-hop, but their paths didn’t cross until 2011. Killer Mike, born Michael Render in 1975, is a powerhouse Southern rapper. Jaime Meline, the New York native who works as El-P, was a primary architect of the hip-hop underground of the 1990s.
They referred to one another as best friends during a show that emphasized hugs and smiles rather than political posturing. Mike enthusiastically endorsed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a concert in Kansas City 17 months ago. On Monday, he described himself as a “compassionate capitalist” as he donated a T-shirt to an ailing fan.
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Aside from El-P’s obscenity-laced tirade about the Trump administration in the introduction to “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” the men let their incendiary lyrics deliver their message. El-P rapped, “You talk clean and bomb hospitals, so I speak with the foulest mouth possible” on “A Report to the Shareholders,” a succinct statement of Run the Jewels’ intent.
The substance of most songs, however, was watered down by the delivery. Not only did “Hey Kids” sound more a soccer stadium-style chant than an incitement of revolution, Mike playfully fist bumped a crowd surfer at the conclusion of the militant song.
The message was further diluted when Mike became winded. His flow was muffled on the theme song “Run the Jewels” after he and El-P danced shoulder-to-shoulder like a gravitationally challenged version of the Rockettes.
The absence of video projections was also curious. Although flashing blue, red and white lights effectively conveyed the presence of emergency vehicles at a chaotic crime scene, the show had the meager production values of a spontaneous protest rally. A rendition of “Early,” a song about racial profiling and police brutality, would have benefited enormously from corresponding footage.
Only when Mike and El-P were joined by the groundbreaking female rapper Gangsta Boo on the scandalously lewd “Love Again” did Run the Jewels’ outing resemble something other than a breezy boys’ night out.
Talk to Me; Legend Has It; Call Ticketron; Blockbuster Night, Part 1; Oh My Darling Don’t Cry; Nobody Speak; Hey Kids; Panther Like a Panther; Stay Gold; Don’t Get Captured; Everybody Stay Calm; Love Again; Lie, Cheat, Steal; Early; A Report to the Shareholders; Run the Jewels; Close Your Eyes; Down