Monday, December 23, 2013
Concert review: Jay-Z killed it to bouncing, screaming Dallas audience
His show’s set lacked the bells and whistles of many of his arena-packing peers, but its relative simplicity served the content well.
Watching Jay-Z leave it all on stage at a mostly packed American Airlines Center Saturday night, I kept thinking back to the vibe he achieved in that “Picasso Baby” performance art film earlier this year. In the short piece that debuted on HBO, the 44-year-old Brooklyn hip-hop icon born Shawn Carter performed face-to-face with admirers, demonstrating a gut-deep connection with his fans.
It’s a connection that’s become unbreakable throughout nearly two decades of intensely autobiographical material, a relationship that means as much to Jay-Z as his abundant riches and increasingly enviable lifestyle. And one could even forgive rap’s king if he approached his Magna Carter World Tour as an obligation, letting the audience do the heavy lifting. Judging by the smartly-dressed crowd’s undying enthusiasm on Saturday, they certainly would have done so. But, serendipitously, Jay worked harder than anyone else during Saturday’s 90-minute-plus performance, and he seemed to cherish every second.
His show’s set lacked the bells and whistles of many of his arena-packing peers, but its relative simplicity served the content well. Jay-Z paced a lower stage alone as his small band and musical director, super-producer Timbaland, performed from a multi-level metal matrix behind him. Large screens allowed the MC to point out freshly-dressed fans during one segment – he even spotted and shouted out Erykah Badu, Jay Electronica and their young daughter Mars.
In what was the most memorable visual of the night, the rapper’s all-black outfit contrasted with sparkling gold chains and a swinging medallion whose value probably exceeds our entire lifetime of earnings. But enough about the sights; the sounds were what moved the folks to rapturous levels of dancing and hand-waving.
The first half of the set list mixed highlights from latest album Magna Carta Holy Grail with cherry-picked singles and collaborations of years past. New hits “Holy Grail,” “Tom Ford” and the aforementioned “Picasso Baby” received the full-on rap-along treatment from the house. The Black Album classic “99 Problems” sounded as urgent as it did the day it was released. Die-hard rap fans likely experienced chillbumps hearing Jay-Z go all the way back to the poetic 1995 debut album Reasonable Doubt on the couplet of “Dead Presidents II” and “Can I Live.”
A short headliner’s intermission gave Timbaland the opportunity to keep everyone moving with many of his undeniable beats, from the baby-coo-tinged Aaliyah banger “Are You That Somebody” to Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supafly)” and Ginuwine’s “Pony.” More than just a supporting act, the producer and frequent Jay-Z collaborator reminded us of his crucial role in popular music.
But once the star of the evening stepped back on stage for an extended victory lap, his audience stayed at an 11 until the end. They shouted the late Houston rapper Pimp C’s verse on “Big Pimpin’” to Jay’s delight. They flooded the aisles at the rapper’s request during the Watch the Throne hit “N... in Paris,” security personnel be damned. They bounced and screamed to encore selections “Empire State of Mind,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Hard Knock Life.”
Several times between songs, a sweating-but-never-spent Jay-Z expressed his three-word opinion of the proceedings known: “It’s too good.” Truth be told, that’s as accurate a review as anyone could offer.
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