Recap and Gallery: DJ Qbert at Yoshi’s
Words and Photos: Kevin Lee / May 15, 2011
While a crystal obelisk alighted by the effects pad on the DJ mixer in the center console, two scratch shamens enter the stage wearing fullbody gowns covering their entire body and face except the eyes, where they wear glasses with lights on the side of the frame. This ain’t your typical DJ show. Such is the beginning of DJ Qbert’s new stage show, “Dymentional Tryportation,” which debuted at Yoshi’s in San Francisco on Saturday.
With the two shamens at his flanks, apparently two skilled turntablists there to provide ambiance and scratching support when Qbert needed to reach for records, and two video screens, one for VJ graphics and the other for the camera trained directly at Qbert’s fingers, Q performed his set as if the debate whether turntablists were instrumentalists was old and moot. Rather than turning his set into a technical display that many DJs tend to do, Qbert scratched subserviently to the beat, sometimes subtlety adding texture to the record, other times taking the focus, but always as a part of a composition. The overall theme of the show was eastern mysticism and spirituality, and Q stuck to the script, with one of his opening sequences consisting of tabla drums on one turntable and scratching and cutting a record of sitars on the other. The result was a display that reached out to more than just the turntable geeks who go to shows just to watch hands turning knobs and switches, into something new but familiar enough to cause a room to dance. At the least, the music moved Qbert for sure, as he cranked his neck, dipped his shoulders, wagged his tongue, grimaced and rolled his eyes not only to the beat but the melody, swings and shifts of the music, much like other musicians do. And while Qbert did indulge in some DMC-style trickery toward the end, including some beat juggling that stayed impressively on beat for quite awhile, it seemed clear that his focus that night was being a musician, not a technician.
Every now and then to keep folks on their toes, Q threw pieces of swag from Thud Rumble and his vast merchandising empire onto the floor. Scratch records? Check. Thud Rumble DVDs? Sure. That crystal obelisk from before? Yup. MacBook scratch protector covers with the Invisibl Skratch Picklz ant logo? Why not. The Nikon DSLR someone stashed under his turntables? Maybe not. All the while, Qbert had the place reaching upward like the bleachers during batting practice, with moments of mind-losing frenzy breaking out at regular intervals, like tug-of-war battles between fans by the stage and unsuspecting and distracted photographers getting clobbered on the head (better my head than my camera, I say). Autographs during the set were also not off-limits, someone handed Q a Sharpie and his Blackberry, which he signed dutifully.