Photo by Carlie Armstrong

The Hollywood Bowl is probably the best venue in the world. Yes, I’m aware that you can’t prove those types of statements, just as I’m also aware of the probability that there are probably a half dozen other places on earth, equally as fantastic. But for all practical purposes, the Bowl is Los Angeles at its best, a gorgeous natural amphitheater carved into the sloping green and brown Hollywood Hills, filled with clarion sound, perfect unobstructed sight lines and a liquor policy that lets you to bring in as many bottles of wine as you can stash into your picnic basket. (No Yogi Bear.)

Accordingly, playing “the Bowl” is the sort of honor that lets musicians know that they finally “made it,” so it was a little strange hearing that DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, were going to play 2007’s opening weekend. Not strange as in bad, but strange as in how far hip-hop and the DJ art form have come in the decade-plus since Shadow re-invented hip-hop instrumentalism with Endtroducing. Indeed, it was almost a coronation of sorts for the two pioneers of the art form, especially since Cut Chemist is a hometown boy and one of the the greatest DJs the city has ever produced.

So maybe it made perfect sense after all, for a legendary venue like the Bowl to host two master craftsmen unveiling “Hard Sell,” Chemist and Shadow’s latest impossibly funky concoction, following on the legendary heels of their two previous collabos,”Brainfreeze” and “Product Placement.” And in spite of the colossal expectations raised by its predecessors, the “Hard Sell,” set completed what might be the best trilogy since Back to the Future.

Sadly, “Hard Sell” Contained No ZZ Top

Commencing with a short parody tutorial film about vinyl and the art of DJ-ing, Chemist and Shadow managed to school the uninitiated on the science of turntablism, while simultaneously winking at the hip-hop heads and beat junkies who climbed out of the basement to make their way to the Bowl on a warm and clear June night. As for the set itself, as Oliver Wang astutely pointed out, it’s a little pointless to run down the playlist. You just can’t articulate what it’s like to have your mind blown by these herky-jerky, sliced and diced symphonies, while sitting in a cathedral of noise, watching the pair control eight decks with near flawless precision. Behind them, a video screen flickered with weird stoner images of Transformer jukeboxes firing 7″ records, giant Big Brother-esque eyeballs and even old black and white clips of Bogart in Casablanca.

Less funk and soul based than its predecessors, “Hard Sell” ran the gamut, from oldies like the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You” to post-grunge like Foo Fighters “Everlong.” The set’s highlight (and perhaps its heart) was a segment devoted to the hip-hop classics. The Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By” melded with Gangstarr’s “Dwyck,” Prince Paul breaks from 3 Feet High and Rising bumped heads with Nas’ “Made You Look” (the only song I can still actually listen to from God’s Son).

“Hard Sell’s” quasi-experimental fusion of genres make it a bit less seamless than Brainfreeze and Product Placement, yet it’s no less brilliant, particularly when pared with the opportunity to see it at the Bowl. It might never reach the almost mythic status surrounding the first Brainfreeze performance, held on a winter night eight years ago in San Francisco, but it’s hard to imagine any DJ show getting much better than this. From the buzz floating around at the after-party, Chemist and Shadow are planning on taking the show on the road and I highly recommend checking it out. It really shouldn’t be such a hard sell.

Also see: Oliver Wang’s incredibly comprehensive and knowledgeable take.

Download:
MP3: DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist-“Brainfreeze” (left-click)

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