Cuz Lightyear, one of the opening acts for Run the Jewels at Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Thursday, told the audience of about 1,000 that he liked music that was “slow, loud and banging.” Two of the three of his preferences were met during the headliner’s performance.
The volume was thunderous and the aggressive hip-hop beats pummeled fans like body blows. Rather than slow, however, the majority of the selections possessed jackhammer-like rhythms.
Run the Jewels is the oddly matched duo of Atlanta’s Killer Mike and New York’s El-P. Both hip-hop veterans enjoyed prominent careers before they began working together in 2011. They formed Run the Jewels two years later.
The core elements that make their two albums exceptional — nuanced rapping and innovative production — were obliterated in Thursday’s performance.
Killer Mike and El-P danced like no one was watching during the Kansas City debut of Run the Jewels. Their enthusiasm was reciprocated by a crowd that zealously rapped along to every song.
The low-budget presentation, however, reduced the duo’s music to the same sort of artless shouting over pre-recorded music that mars many hip-hop concerts. As Chance the Rapper proved in the same venue eight days earlier, live instrumentation and an imaginative stage set can enhance the work of creative hip-hop artists.
Run the Jewels’ straightforward approach was a throwback to the unadorned 1980s aesthetic of groups like Run-DMC. Members of the audience didn’t seem to mind that the roughshod approach eliminated the crafty subtleties of material like “Sea Legs.”
Fans’ communal chants and synchronized hand gestures resembled the antics of a crowd at a rowdy political rally. The duo fed them plenty of red meat. Admirers applauded when Killer Mike endorsed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and laughed when El-P insisted that the irredeemably vulgar “Love Again” was “a love song.”
Only a version of a harrowing composition about an unwarranted police shooting rivaled the original recording. When Boots joined Run the Jewels on “Early,” his vocals added an emotional depth that was otherwise absent.
Boots’ opening set was revelatory. Best known as a producer for artists including Beyoncé, Boots and a three-piece backing band created futuristic sounds. Their fascinating blend of industrial rock and sultry R&B sometimes sounded as if Usher was fronting a Nine Inch Nails tribute band.
Boots’ 25-minute appearance was agonizingly brief. Although it lasted less than an hour, Run the Jewels’ performance seemed far too long.
Run the Jewels; Oh My Darling Don’t Cry; Blockbuster Night Part 1; Banana Clipper; DDFH; Sea Legs; Close Your Eyes (And Count to F***); Pew Pew Pew; Lie, Cheat, Steal; Early; All Due Respect; Love Again; Get It; A Christmas F***ing Miracle; Angel Duster