Among the artists who boast an epoch-defining sound stands DJ Shadow. There's something symphonic about the hip hop magpie's best work - he commands elements of the old and new as if baton-wielding in front of an orchestra. His music captured the point at which big beat optimism ceded to pre-millennial tension - so is he still animated by the geist of a 20-year-old zeit?
Support act Noer the Boy is on Shadow’s label, but the similarities are few. Rather than offer a melodic beginning, middle and end, this is music that invades your chest cavity. Offensively bassy kicks; rhythmic disorientation; sound shattering into a thousand pieces accompanied by drillish lows and tweeting-siren highs: it's fairly dark (though its maker could, from 20 metres away, be Nick Offerman on another side-hustle), with pre-drop gatherings of breath and missed beats substituting for traditional structures. But as a reviewer I like music that makes me feel I'm dancing about architecture - as if looking at a world map and realising I've only traversed 0.05% of it. Thanks to
Josh Davis arrives in the O2 with baseball cap, inventive visuals and a humility belying his big moniker. Endtroducing cuts are greeted like returning heroes, such as the paranoid piano and trippy dialogue of 'Building Steam with a Grain of Salt', the jazzy electro chords of 'Transmission 2'. A mix of Davis’ co-write with Thom Yorke, when the former was a member of UNKLE (‘Rabbit in Your Headlights’) is punctuated with the hype of “Oxford: represent!”, and a Hudson Mohawke remix of an Endtro piece gives a dancier shimmer to proceedings. Though Shadow promises "Some stuff you know, some stuff you don't - that's the point, right?" indicating that he's not feeling overly retrospective, or underestimating his audience. They're pumped to hear familiar songs in unfamiliar guises (other acts take note).
There's a fluidity to Shadow's performance, afforded by his being a solo artist with desks and decks - 'Nobody Speak', his recent collab with Run The Jewels, is a case in point. Here we get to hear the full version of the source song, from which its guitar hook was nabbed, then a curtailed version of 'Nobody Speak' erupts, greeted by crowd as if it were a 20-year-old classic! Fans hoping for Killer Mike himself to show up were slightly disappointed, but hearing this anti-fascist piece anywhere is value for money: it sounds dangerous, seems to personify evil, accuses the US President of incest and name-checks most of the characters from Peanuts within about 90 seconds. Other tracks from The Mountain Will Fall go down great, even if some appear as fleeting glances - its snares may be stridently synthetic, but they make sense in a live arena, being at one with the wires, sound guys, current and speakers.
The visuals are by long-term collaborator Ben Stokes, accompanying every second of every track with something bright and inventive: digital machinery scrolls past as if leered over in a Bond title sequence; archive footage about hate crimes unspools; rave-coloured leopards groove and twitch across the three expansive screens in sync with Shadow’s bpm, their eyes censored as if they're monstrous computer-generated criminals. Then there's the thrill of three-dimensionality, as a transparent curtain falls at stage front, and the projections land on multiple levels. It looks like there could be a white wire-frame hummingbird floating in slo-mo around the middle of this room, the size of a Ford Focus. We should give thanks for the O2, for nowhere else in
Encoring with cuts from his brand-new EP, featuring Danny Brown and Nas, Josh Davis is utterly determined not to rest on his laurels - not when there are fresh and different new sounds to introduce.