Sunday, October 25, 2009
The night I saw Jay-Z in concert and almost died in a parking garage.
I am super white, but 99 Problems is seriously one of my favorite songs. I don't even own a car [I am a fan of public transportation, which makes me even more white], so I'm not going to get pulled over any time soon because 'I'm young and I'm black/ and my hat's real low.'
Okay so one time my friend and I drove past a bunch of police officers who were standing inexplicably along the side of the highway, just as the 'in the rear view mirror was the motherfuckin' law' line blared out our open windows. The police officers looked slightly taken aback, and for a second we felt like badasses. Of course, at that moment we were two girls from Detroit driving through rural Canada so in that situation we actually probably were.
But that was sort of the point of the whole evening I spent with Jay-Z: it doesn't really matter who you are, all you need is some swagger.
Jay began the evening with a performance of Run This Town complete with Rihanna's disembodied voice, and followed that up by telling us all that he was essentially drunk. A thunderstorm had grounded his plane on the runway in New York [because of course Jay-Z would fly to Providence, even though its only a 3 hour drive], and he told the audience that "Good news is, I still got here. Bad news is, I passed that time having a couple shots. Know what I'm sayin'?" Yes Jay-Z, I know what you're saying considering in the break between opening acts I waited for roughly 40 minutes in line to buy a $7.50 rum and coke, even though I had spent the previous hour pre-gaming with my own bottle of wine at my friend's apartment. I even put up with this girl who came up to me when I was next in line at the bar and who said in the most condescending way possible, "Sweetie, would you mind buying me a beer?" Yeah I do mind Sweetie, considering I just waited 40 fucking minutes for a drink which I am sure will be watered down and not worth what I am paying for it, as will all the other people in line behind us who, like me, do not appreciate you just waltzing up to the front of the line. Said girl then tried to flirt with my friend to see if he would be into buying her a beer, but seeing as he's not interested in the ladies, she was effectively shut down. Score! So long story short, yes Hov, I know exactly what you're sayin'.
So after all the drunks in the audience loudly cheered the fact that they had dropped $45+ to watch another drunk rap, Jay launched into D.O.A. while funny looking skull and cross bones that looked like belonged on a Hot Topic t-shirt danced across a screen in the background. Of course I could have died happy if I saw Jay-Z perform 99 Problems live and nothing else, but I also obviously wanted to hear some of the other greats. And the set list did not disappoint, if I could have made up the list myself I don't think it could have been any better. In addition to 99 Problems, there was among others, Izzo, Can I Get A... [or as a friend excitedly exclaimed, "He's doing the Rush Hour song!!!"], Jigga What, Public Service Announcement, and the last song before an encore, Dirt Off Your Shoulder. About three-quarters through Jay returned to do more songs from The BluePrint 3, bringing out a few special guests in Memphis Bleek, Swizz Beats and Pharell [N.E.R.D. was the opening act, even though they weren't billed at all!]. While bringing out his guests was decidedly cool, this section of the concert lagged a bit mainly because after hearing all those hits that you know all the words to and loudly sing along with, some lesser known new album tracks can be kind of a drag. Since Pharell was in the house I kind of wish he and Jay had done Change Clothes together instead of their new song So Ambitious, but hey, you gotta try to sell new records. The exception during this section was Empire State of Mind, which is my favorite song off the new album, and from the crowd's reaction probably a lot of other people's as well. After the song, Jay introduced his back up singer Bridget Kelly, who sang all of Alicia Keys' parts live, and who could probably give Alicia a run for her money. A hundred bucks Bridget has a record deal within the year.
After a short break Jay returned for an encore filled with even more hits - Lucifer, Hard Knock Life, and even his verse from Swagga Like Us. He performed these songs in a sort of medley style, which he abruptly stopped when his band started the intro of Big Pimpin'. Why you ask? Oh, because in Jay's words, "We just can't do Big Pimpin' like its any old song! It's a cultural phenomenon!" He then encouraged the audience to wave something, anything above their heads - Jay waved his jacket, and I waved my iPhone. Like I said, I'm super white. Then came Encore, because if you have a song called Encore and don't perform it during an encore, that's just extremely lame. Next came the "I'm HOVA bitches and I can talk about whatever I want for however long I want" portion of the program, during which we were treated to boasts about record sales [please, like you thought it would be a rap concert without that], an inspirational speech about how it was us young people who had finally elected a black president, and most entertainingly, Jay sent a camera man into the audience so he could comment on audience members' fashionz and generally good-naturedly mock people. He ribbed on a older man asking him if he was old enough to have seen Frank Sinatra in person, and even brought a young kid named Angelo on stage who even though he looked to be about 6 was still probably cooler than I'll ever be. The evening then ended with a performance of Young Forever, and with its "Life is short, but art endures" message it was the perfect song to go out on - whether its just a concert, or as it might finally turn out, a whole career.
Overall, Jay-Z is a very consummate live performer - I don't think he would have had as long a career as he has had if he wasn't. One of the things I enjoy about Jay-Z's music is that a lot of songs have a rockin' edge to them, and with a live band with horns and electric guitars behind him this was even more evident. In contrast, when I saw Kanye's Glow In The Dark Tour, it sounded like he was rapping live over pre-recorded backing tracks, mainly because his songs were carefully arranged to fit into a narrative. With Kanye I was more aware that I was watching a "performance," since with the combination of elaborate sets and narrative it was almost akin to watching a rock opera like Tommy. But with a minimal set, a live band and frequent breaks for witty banter, Jay just seemed like that guy you gave 20 bucks and a case of beer to and invited to rap at your house party. That isn't to say one style is better than the other - I enjoyed both concerts immensely and think each style most definitely has merit - but Jay's concert was just a good old fashioned time. Jay was also surprisingly easy to understand - every word out of his mouth was as clear as it was recorded [every once in a while he would throw out an acapella verse, and in those cases the words were even more pronounced]. But this clarity just encouraged everyone to sing along louder, increasing the party atmosphere even more. 24 hours later and my throat is still scratchy - I may be a white girl who wears plastic glasses but that didn't stop me during Izzo from yelling out "Vamoose son of a bitch!" with the rest of the arena.
Indeed, an evening with Jay-Z will increase your swagga exponentially; I not only told off annoying beer girl and I can count on one hand the number of times I have told off anyone, but a friend managed to elicit cheers in the parking garage after a rather spectacular maneuver. Predictably, an arena parking garage after a concert is a giant clusterfuck and an unnecessarily large SUV tried to cut off the car I was in and nearly nailed us - seriously, I was sitting in the passenger's seat and that SUV's grill was all up in my grill. In retaliation, my friend in the car behind us entered into a game of chicken with the SUV to see who would get to go next in line, and amazingly my friend managed to pull off the victory, earning him cheers from a bunch of people watching the incident go down. So if my Asian friend who wore a sweater vest to a rap concert and owned a giant SUV in his little Toyota isn't the perfect embodiment of Jay-Z's "fuck critics you can kiss my whole asshole" ethos then I don't know what is.