Live Review: Run The Jewels blend reality and escapism at the House of Blues

I vaguely recall somebody — I don’t remember who, and I can only assume the context related to college, somehow — explaining that art forged amid discourageable national circumstances tends to either reflect the grimdark n’ gloom of its time, or tilt toward bacchanalia and escapism.

That old assertion popped to mind Friday night at the House of Blues as the indomitable rap duo Run The Jewels demonstrated that, regarding decadence or despair, only suckers pick one or the other. And Run The Jewels are certainly not suckers.

Beneath Galactus-size replica hands tossing up Arr Tee Jay’s pistol/fist insignia, and in the thrall of strobe lights straight out of an outlawed episode of Pokemon, an at-capacity squad of about 2,500 shouted “Dick in the mouth all day!” in unison whenever “Love Again” — featuring Gangsta Boo’s ever-crucial cameo — arrived at the chorus. A ton of people yelling about dicks is kind of funny. Bantering between songs, Atlanta native Killer Mike extolled the potency of the marijuana inhaled in his immediate past, and wished aloud that Tom Brady had smoked the same weed before that business at the Super Bowl a few weeks ago. That was also funny. Seconds later, El-P lamented the war mongers presently in the process of “literally destroying the world,” which is not funny at all, to segue into “Lie, Cheat, Steal.”

Both of those tracks off 2014’s Run The Jewels 2 fit snugly into the outfit’s greatest hits catalogue. But more germane cuts off the surprise Christmas Eve treat Run The Jewels 3 — especially the dystopian “Don’t Get Captured” and the delightfully profane “Panther Like a Panther” — landed with a gravitas befitting pop music’s most vibrant political operation in the wake of 2016’s population-spanning cognitive meltdown.

Dead Kennedys aren’t getting back together and Zack de la Rocha works smarter, not harder, by guesting on Arr Tee Jay tracks instead of reanimating the rotting corpse of Rage Against The Machine. De la Rocha wasn’t around to supply his verse to “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck),” but the encore nevertheless dislodged the entire House Of Blues from the space-time continuum, and temporarily repositioned us in an alternate U.S. history where Big City America’s relief and elation following President Bernie Sanders’ narrow November victory carries on into early spring.

Nick Hook functioned as much like a variety show host as a conventional opening DJ, serving up a set intermittently crashed by Cuz Lightyear, Gangsta Boo, Harvard University’s own Tef Poe, and a pair of randos plucky arbitrarily from the crowd to learn drum machine and keyboards on the spot. Gaslamp Killer’s subsequent performance felt shambolic, even by mashup artist standards, but I’ll be damned if there’s ever a wrong place or a wrong time for a remix of the Legend of Zelda theme song.

Featured photo by Barry Thompson. Follow him on Twitter @barelytomson.