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Music Review

DJ Shadow mixes tracks like a master at House of Blues

JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

With a video montage in the background, DJ Shadow performed inside his “Shadowsphere.’’

Four albums and 28 years into his career as DJ Shadow, Josh Davis manifests the paradoxes of making new music by cutting up old recordings like no one else. His 1996 full-length debut, “Endtroducing . . .,’’ remains hip-hop’s most widely lauded set of moody, beat-driven instrumentals, yet it appeared just as the digital explosion eclipsed the “vinyl culture’’ espoused in its liner notes.

A vocal opponent of file sharing (and of the Internet in general), Davis reportedly suffered licensing problems with his 2011 release, “The Less You Know, the Better,’’ and the relatively conventional disc was derided by many young technophiles. Indeed, half an hour before Shadow’s set at the House of Blues on Friday, the box office reported selling only 1,100 of its 2,400 tickets.

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Even so, the 39-year-old DJ’s strenuous performance proved that his ambition remains undaunted, fired by an ingratiating desire to satisfy as well as to impress. Ambling on stage without fanfare in black jeans and a black T-shirt over a white top, Shadow gave a short speech acknowledging that some would not like everything he played. “But that’s what music is: an ebb and a flow.’’

The DJ then disappeared into his “Shadowsphere,’’ a large white orb set in front of a larger white screen. As he began mixing inside, images were projected in rapid succession onto the sphere and screen. Sometimes they transformed the orb into the earth, a basketball, the “Star Wars’’ Death Star; sometimes they utilized the 3-D surface to warp in motion, making the sphere appear to rotate.

Shadow mixed tracks from his first album to his last with new rhythms and sound effects, transforming them into 15-minute beat symphonies. After the first set, he raised his hand through the top of the sphere. After the second, it opened to reveal Shadow working his electronic gear furiously, with no crates of vinyl in site. The technological spectacle could have been numbing, or at least tinged with irony, but for almost two hours it remained varied and engaging, with sounds and sights both alienating and beautiful. Cuts from “Endtroducing . . .’’ were greeted with cheers; the minor 2002 hit “Six Days’’ became a sing-along; new numbers like “I Gotta Rokk’’ rocked. By the end, the largely young white crowd on the dance floor looked as exhausted as the mix master on stage, and as satisfied.

Franklin Soults can be reached at fsoults@gmail.com.
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