The UW Memorial Union Terrace is filled with people who live in Madison, so it's easy to forget how rare a space it is out of context. It's a scenic hangout, a place to eat ice cream and rent paddleboards, a place for families to waste an afternoon. I's also a place that books three-hour rap shows by acts like Run the Jewels, a new duo composed of El-P and Killer Mike.
So it's hard to fault El-P and Kool A.D. for worrying that they were about to ruin someone's night on Saturday. It turned out there was nothing to fear. By the time El-P and Killer Mike took the stage for their headlining set
After opening sets from Kool A.D. and Despot, Killer Mike kicked off his solo set with selections from last year's awe-inspiring R.A.P. Music. He opened with the album's first song, "Big Beast," which inspired moshing and just might have reversed the tides of Lake Mendota. He ripped through the soulful "Untitled," the flaming "Butane," the title track and the charged "Reagan" in a half an hour. But the most inspiring entertainment happened in between songs, as Mike offered monologues on everything from Kanye West tweeting that the second verse of his "New Slaves" is the best verse of all time (Mike said the first verse on his "Untitled" is number one), to Edward Snowden, to how American society's problems are predominantly class related. The audience assembled on the Terrace seemed pretty receptive to these speeches.
El-P presented an equal amount of "burn the government" sentiment, but to balance out Mike's sermonizing (after all, Mike said going to a concert is like going to church at one point), his most amped-up performances came from last year's Cancer for Cure and 2007's I'll Sleep When You're Dead. He opened with the paranoid "Drones Over BKLYN" and kept the energy up through the skittering "EMG," the posse cut "Tougher Colder Killer" and album highlight "The Full Retard." He brought out a surprise guest who happened to be in Madison, too: Former Madisonian Zola Jesus performed with El on "Works Every Time," weaving through the crowd to replicate their last year.
By then, the crowd was primed for the main attraction. El and Mike opened their set with a Blues Brothers-esque intro in which they vamped to George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone," and then blasted through Run the Jewels. On paper, these two artists might not appear to be duo material, but their enthusiasm for each other is palpable. They played skull-flattening takes of "Get It," "36 Chain" and "DDFH," plus the location-appropriate tune "Sea Legs." They ended their with a particularly searing rendition of "A Christmas Fucking Miracle," which they dedicated to Trayvon Martin's family. It was a fitting finale that may have made the crowd's year rather than ruining their night.