Belatedly, a quick mention of the DJ Krush show a month back in San Francisco. It was Japanese turntablist Krush’s second time through town (at the same venue, no less) in just over half a year, but those two shows couldn’t have been more different. On September 29, 2004, at Club Mezzanine, just south of Market Street, he’d brought with him performers who’d graced his most recent album, Jaku, doing a brief set each with a pianist, saxophonist, shakuhachi player and rapper. He’d mentioned in interviews in the past that his shows in Japan were much more involved than his U.S. shows, which tended to be DJ sets. The September performance finally brought that Japan format to the U.S., but the end result seemed a bit tentative; perhaps a nearby hall like Yoshi’s or Great American would have better served the music than did the cavernous Mezzanine. There were great moments, especially when saxophonist Akira Sakata chanted with deep concentration at the opening of their duet, but given the silences between each pairing and the low volume level, it was lacking.
On April 29, 2005, on his way to the Coachella Festival in Southern California, Krush returned to San Francisco for a solo gig, with the spotlight entirely on him, and the volume raised to earplugs-only extremes. He was directly preceded on stage by Relm (Mike Wong), a nimble DJ with the set list of a bar mitzvah (Jay-Z, the Peanuts theme, Michael Jackson) and an interest in mixing video live. Relm concluded his appearance with a light reworking of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” accompanied by a video in which he flashed the lyrics on cue cards, a la Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Then Krush, a slight man in a wide-brim hat, appeared, continuing the theme by operating heavily on a jazz-fusion cover of Lennon’s “Imagine.” The contrast emphasized the two men’s differing concerns. Relm takes familiar music, often remixed to begin with, and sews it into a continuous, party-oriented routine. Krush on the other hand plays largely his own music, and when he’s playing someone else’s, such as the Lennon cover, he cuts and filters it until he’s taken full possession of it. He played for an hour, working in music from Jaku and focusing almost entirely on the album’s vocal-less material. Only in his encore did he pull out the rap songs, like “Nosferatu” (featuring Mr. Lif). Working almost entirely from one turntable and a mixer, he emphasized the lush, underlying rhythms of his music. The April show hit a promising balance, not as envelope-pushing as his live duets with non-electronic performers, but not as pop as his song-form material. He was very much in his element.
Now, a brief aside: I visited Japan for a week last year, in late December. It my first time, and I was on a business trip, which left no opportunity for a concert, just a little record shopping and sightseeing. I haven’t traveled without a copy of Krush’s album Kakusei since it was released, in 1998, though of course the arrival of personal MP3 players has made it possible to carry far more music with ease, so that essential record has since been supplemented with his Jaku, Strictly Turntablized and Code4109, plus some live recordings. I was listening to Krush when I had my third view of Mt. Fuji. The first two had been highly stylized photographs on advertisements for beverages whose contents and brands I didn’t recognize, but on the train from, if I remember correctly, Chiba into Tokyo, Mt. Fuji came into view for real, with the spare beats of Kakusei rumbling in my skull. (More on DJ Krush at his homepage, mmjp.or.jp/sus/krush.)