Arts & CultureMusic

BoomBox creates spontaneous set for WOW Hall audience

It’s dark. The crowd begins shouting, as one would expect before the opening act begins its set at a concert — and, not in the business of disappointing the crowd, the two band members walk quickly onto the WOW Hall stage and take up their positions without a word to anyone. Suddenly illuminated by a single purple light, stage fog swirls in from the side and around the two DJs, just as the first three simple notes strike the air.

This show is all about atmosphere and, consequently, the crowd is all anticipation, waiting to see what will happen. But as soon as the keyboard notes are repeated and quickly joined by electric guitar, a funky bass line and a basic drum track, the crowd is dancing.  It’s not just people standing up close to the front or a group off to the side — the whole crowd is dancing.

Within a matter of seconds the two DJs, Russ Randolph and Zion Godchaux, completely take control of the environment, encapsulating the audience in a pulsing, funky and psychedelic set that features electronic tracks mixed with live guitar, keyboard and vocals.

Arms wave, bodies sway and in one corner a light-up hula-hoop dances, mesmerizing figures in the darkness (trust me, you have not seen something so distracting and bewitching as a light-up hula-hoop).

So describes Wednesday night at WOW Hall, when rock/electronic band BoomBox took to the stage to create a one-of-a-kind show for Eugene.

Unlike most other bands, which have a predetermined number and order of songs that they play at every show, Randolph and Godchaux go into each show without a setlist, opting instead to get a feel for the crowd and to create an atmosphere that each individual crowd will be the most engaged in.

“We don’t want to give them a scripted, rehearsed show,” Randolph said of the audience. “We don’t use setlists, we don’t do plans. We talk about the first song, and then we really want to have a conversation with the crowd.”

That conversation with the Eugene crowd began with fan-favorite “Mr. Boogie Man,” easily leading into the rest of the set, which largely favored distorted, psychedelic guitar riffs, chest-vibrating drum lines and simple, repetitive keyboard notes on most every song.

A two-man band, BoomBox splits their talents up while on stage, with Randolph operating two turntables, synthesizer and keyboard while Godchaux provides vocals and plays electric guitar. The two communicate to each other without cue to the audience, seamlessly transitioning from one song to another.

“A good DJ really cares about what to play and when to play it, and really kind of becomes one with the crowd,” said Godchaux.

“ It’s very easy to go out and play and just beat people over the head with a track,” agreed Randolph. “It’s a lot more difficult to play a track and understand how it affects the crowd. It’s strange to us that that’s not the mindset of most bands, because that’s the mindset of a good DJ.”

Forming in 2004 after the two met while working on “At the Table,” an album released by The Heart of Gold Band, Randolph and Godchaux immediately saw the potential of working together, according to Randolph. When the two met, Godchaux — son of Keith and Donna Godchaux, both members of The Grateful Dead in the 1970s — largely played live instruments but was heavily influenced by house music of the 1990s, and Randolph had a background in drum programming and production. Combining their two influences, the two became BoomBox and have since released two full-length albums, 2005’s “Visions of Backbeat” and 2010’s “Downriverelectric.”

Their set featured songs from both of these albums, including fan favorites such as “Stereo” and “Midnight on the Run.” Fans danced and smiled along to the whole set, which is the goal of the live music that BoomBox creates, according to Godchaux.

“(We hope) they keep smiling, for at least an hour,” he said of the audience.

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