Run The Jewels’ latest concert for Adult Swim proves we are all still walking in the snow
On Oct. 17, rap duo Run The Jewels performed a concert in conjunction with Adult Swim and Ben and Jerry’s called Holy Calamavote. The show was broadcast across YouTube and Adult Swim’s TV channel.
The concert was the first live performance of the group’s fourth album, RTJ4. Starting with an introduction from host Eric Andre staging the event as a telethon urging people to vote, then moving into the first song off the album “yankee and the brave (ep 4).”
The purpose of the show was an encouragement to vote, and the show only got more political after the intro. If you’ve ever listened to an RTJ album, you know their lyrics are sharp, potent political criticisms — and that hasn’t changed. If anything, 2020 has made their lyrics hit home with more people.
The show stopper was their performance of “walking in the snow.” This song brings up some of the many horrible political events that have happened in the U.S. since 2016, such as the child separation policy and police brutality. For context, the album was released two days earlier than planned due to the tragic death of George Floyd. The song stops at Killer Mike’s quote of “I can’t breathe,” pausing for seconds before continuing. When he resumes, the true power of his words is emphasized by the lack of music playing behind him and made ever more potent as they are tragic.
Their album had many guest stars, including Greg Nice and Gangsta Boo, who made an in-person appearance on their songs “ooh la la,” and “walking in the snow” respectively. Other big names featured on the album such as 2 Chainz and Pharrell Williams did not perform in-person at the show. However, they were not forgotten, appearing on screens behind Killer Mike and EL-P. This was a socially distanced affair, so there was no crowd, but that didn’t seem to phase the duo. Ever the charismatic stage presence, rapper EL-P only brought the emptiness up when thanking one of the guest stars, saying, “Greg Nice, everybody. Wait there’s no one here,” to an empty stage.
During their final song, “a few words for the firing squad (radiation),” they spoke a bit about the situation that brought them there: the 2020 U.S. election.
We believe the last thing they want you to do, is to get out of your house, march down in person, mask on, and cast your ballot for what you think this country is supposed to be,” said El-P.
This quote is what separates this show from other socially distanced concerts held this year. I’ve written before about other concert adaptations for 2020, such as the drive-in concert hosted by Metallica this summer, but this show had a definitively different feel. Metallica’s show was much more of a “normal” concert, costing money and being held outside the home. Holy Calamavote was a defiantly political affair. It was not meant as a distraction from the current world situation, but rather a call to action.
This show was filled with many strange moments à-la it’s host Eric Andre, as well as grand visual flair to match the striking album. Andre is known for his absurdist humor, and even though he only got a few seconds, it shined through. He openly challenged no one in particular to fight him for no apparent reason. The opening and closing of the show involved the Run the Jewels getting in and out of a Buick Grand National, as referenced in “yankee and the brave (ep. 4).” The whole event was filmed like a normal concert film with many angles and lots of lights. “walking in the snow” was a visual powerhouse in addition to being very emotional. It snowed on stage, and extras stood next to the DJ of the show wearing gas masks and surgical smocks. The camera crew was visible while they walked around capturing shots in full mask and face shield glory — a full-scale production while maintaining health guidelines.
This concert is a piece for its time. With political unrest only accelerating into November, the time was right for a striking show.
There was a certain power in this performance that would never have been achievable any other year. While concerts often generate energy from the crowd, the lack thereof here emphasizes the weirdness of 2020. There have been other concerts deemed political, but being internet-exclusive widened this show’s reach and made it more accessible to everyone. We are still “walking in the snow,” and it’s still getting colder every day.
The show is available to watch here.