Review: Run the Jewels' Killer Mike plays peacemaker and local art collector at sold-out Jannus Live concert

Published January 25 2017
Updated January 25 2017

Run the Jewels left St. Petersburg as the proud owners of a new painting by a local artist. How St. Pete is that?

Something in the sold-out crowd at Jannus Live caught the eye of Killer Mike after the duo performed Call Ticketron near the start of the show: a black and white portrait of himself and his partner-in-rhyme El-P that artist Derek Donnelly was holding over his head.

"We'll get that out of your hands so you can actually party," Mike said. "Somebody, please grab the painting for the kid."

"That's an automatic pass to watch from the side of the stage. ... In fact, you have to, and even if you want to urinate, you're not allowed anymore," added El-P, before bringing Donnelly up. 

The energy came from the crowd on Tuesday night, but the joy radiated from the performers. Here were two guys, whose long solo careers seemed to be fading just a few years before their unlikely Brooklyn-meets-Atlanta collaboration, riding high into St. Pete on their biggest success yet. Their latest album, Run the Jewels 3, was No. 1 in the rap, R&B and hip hop categories this week, and the top-seller in physical albums and vinyl.

They were celebrating, cracking themselves up, high-fiving almost constantly and even bear-hugging as they performed under the pair of giant, dismembered hands that form their gun and fist logo. They ran through songs from all three albums in the 75-minute set, including Hey Kids (Bumaye), Kill Your Masters, Early, Run the Jewels, Down, Legend Has It, and Lie Cheat Steal, as well as Nobody Speak from DJ Shadow's The Mountain Will Fall.

Throughout the performance, Mike seemed highly aware that the duo, comprised of two rappers in their 40s, had a weird sort of authority, maybe even a responsibility, for taking care of a crowd of around 2,000 that was overwhelmingly made up of men in their early 20s, a fair number of them marked with Xs on their hands showing they weren't yet drinking age.

Mike referred to "the kids," and to individual fans as "young man." He sounded sincerely angry when he criticized management for "taking weed" from fans at an outdoor venue, even threatening to sit the concert out "like a protest." And when the energy got so high that a fight broke out near the stage during the final song of the night, Close Your Eyes and Count to F---, it was Mike who stepped down and into the audience to break it up, saying, "No, no, no, no, no, we are not going to fight."

The fighting stopped, and apparently the guys even apologized. There's a similar video of Mike breaking up a fight at a Nashville show just a week ago.

The big question coming into the night, though, was if or how Run the Jewels would address politics. Mike had been one of Bernie Sanders most prominent and vocal supporters during the 2016 campaign, and even made national headlines for his interviews with the Vermont senator conducted in his own Atlanta barbershop. Since then, he's spoken on talk shows about the anger he says led to Donald Trump's rise. In a recent review, Complex dubbed Run the Jewels 3, "the sound of the resistance."

Surprisingly, though, it was El-P, by far the less visible and lesser heard from half of the group off stage, who did most of the talking all night. 

"I know it has been a weird ... year, week, month, couple of days," he said, alluding to the election, and to the inauguration less than a week before. "I would just like to say, we don't have a lot to say about that tonight, except, what we've been saying every night, which is that you guys deserve a ... good time."

Then they launched into Blockbuster Night Part 1.

Other than dedicating a song to the women who marched in last weekend's Women's Marches, that was as directly as they addressed politics on stage in St. Petersburg. Much like on Run the Jewels 3, there was no mention of the president by name from the artists (though there definitely was from the audience), but an energy of protest ran through the night just the same.