(Better Late Than Never) DJ Shadow Saves The Day

Tokyo -- What began too late, ended too early for fans of DJ Shadow.

The setting: A club known simply as "Blue," located in the basement of a building in Tokyo's chic Aoyama district. At Blue, there is no sign on the door, but once you enter, you are in a world where low-key soft light

ambiance meets all-night acid jazz blowouts. Blue is where the "cool

people" hang out.

In attendance: An invitation-only audience of industry insiders, underground

hipsters and the media.

The occasion: The Aug. 6 launch of Mo'Wax Japan, a partnership between the cutting-edge British label that caused a stir last year with its release of DJ

Shadow's sampling manifesto, Endtroducing....., and the Japanese

label Toy's Factory. The two labels were throwing a party last Wednesday

to kick off what they describe as a unique relationship, in which they will be working together in a form of cross-pollination to develop a larger stable of Mo'Wax artists, ultimately trying to create a unique identity for Mo'Wax Japan.

The goodies: Forget about the free food and drinks, in the house was none

other than DJ Shadow himself, flown to Japan as a gesture of the importance

which Toy's Factory places on its relationship with the Mo'Wax crew. Or was he?

While Mo'Wax label head James Lavelle (who records under the nom-de-remixer U.N.K.L.E.) was on hand to spin some of his favorite tunes, the buzz throughout the evening focused on the whereabouts of DJ Shadow. No one seemed to know when or where he was going to show up. In fact, he didn't appear behind the turntables until the latter part of Lavelle's hour-long set, keeping the audience in suspense. By the time the headphones were finally passed from the Mo'Wax label visionary to the most noted artist in the Mo'Wax crew, the audience that had packed the small dance floor were bursting with anticipation.

DJ Shadows' friends, rappers Lateef and Lyrics Born, also known as Latyrix, were little consolation.

It appeared that the mostly Japanese audience was struggling to relate to

one-on-one-in-yo-face-phat-lickety-split-top-of-the-dome-free-associating of

the two Oakland rappers who likewise appeared a little frustrated at their inability to get the audience to respond. Nevertheless, despite being confined to a tiny stage in front of the DJ booth, they displayed no lack of energy and enthusiasm in dropping the dope rhymes over the "wheels of steel" beats and scratches of DJ Shadow.

When he finally appeared, DJ Shadow began his set with a 20-minute free-style old-school jam session with Latyrix. DJ Shadow then played solo for about 40 minutes, treating the audience to lengthy re-interpretations of some of his more involved sample-driven hip-hop compositions, including "Midnight in A Perfect World" and "Lost and Found (S.F.L.)."

Baseball cap planted squarely on his head, DJ Shadow's face was one of calm concentration for his entire performance -- it was impossible to tell whether he was enjoying himself. He didn't even seem to notice that most in the packed room were dancing along with his tunes.

DJ Shadow finally managed a smile at the end of his brief set, grabbing a

microphone and thanking the audience. Not satisfied to end it there, he responded to calls for "one more" by spinning DJ Krush's "Meiso," offering a subtle tip of the hat to the first Japanese artist to have been released by Mo'Wax, with whom DJ Shadow occasionally collaborates live and in the studio.

The house lights came on.

And just as things were getting started, it was over.