March 19, 2010

Concert Review: Jay-Z @ United Center in Chicago 3/18/10

Greg Kot seems to think that I wasn't invited to LeBron's party at The Shrine last night. He said it was exclusive and that there would be Chicago Bulls players, and Cleveland Cavs players there, and that Twista and some Chicago Bears would show up. Even Jay-Z was on the guest list. Well, he was right, I didn't go to LeBron's party, but I did go to Jay-Z's party at the United Center, and while less exclusive (there was a sold out crowd of like 18,000 people), all of the high profile people that were supposed to be at The Shrine for that party (started at 9) were at the United Center instead until at least 11:20. I know because that's when Jay-Z's set finished, and that's when I saw the Bulls team walk out the door.

Let's back up a minute and start from the beginning. I'm not sure when the start time for the show got pushed from 7 to 8, but apparently everybody else missed the memo too, which must have been great for the United Center, but really boring for everyone that would have rather been watching an extra hour of the NCAA Tournament than sitting in their seat listening to a DJ.

When everything did get started, and Trey Songz came out on stage, a couple of things were evident to me. One, though there was a huge LCD screen in back of him while he was performing, only a small portion of the budget was devoted to the visuals, because most of it looked like an iTunes visualization. Though the band was tight, and Trey, Tremaine, Trigga, or whatever the girls are calling him at that moment did his best to put on a good show I couldn't get by the fact that he kept grabbing his junk as if he were Michael Jackson. The ladies swooned over "I Need a Girl" and "I Invented Sex," but if I had to put it into one sentence; The girl next to me, after his set was over, said that "his best song ("Say Ahh" which is currently his biggest hit) was his cover of Jamie Foxx's 'Blame It'."

When Trey was done, the countdown started. I'm not going to lie, I was surprised to find out that the countdown was actually to Jay-Z and not Young Jeezy, I've never been to a concert where the second opener did his set in the middle of the headliner's set, but that's how it went here.

I'll get the piece about Young Jeezy's set out of the way up front. I didn't understand a word he said (chalked up to terrible acoustics of the United Center). Also, he called out to all the people on the "East Side" of Chicago, which is Lake Michigan. Young Jeezy should get a map. Last, he told everyone to point to the ceiling and not let the starts get in the way, and that the nothing is impossible, which was touching in that coming from a guy who keeps getting arrested sort of way. The music was okay.

Jay-Z's set, while broken up into two parts, was an exhibition of why he has achieved the sort of heights that he has in the type of music where popularity is as fleeting as your last single. Trying to come up with a set list for this show would be almost impossible, and when the collaborators get together and do it, I'll post it here.
Also, a quick note, the 10-piece band that provided all the beats was killer. I'm always impressed when hip-hop is done live well.

I'll say that the video screens that were set up behind him in the spirit of the New York Skyline were really cool. After leading off with "Run This Town" where the Rihanna vocals were canned, Jay-Z fell into his stride, with hits like "99 Problems" where the screen turned into a giant stack of Marshall amps, and "Jigga What, Jigga Who" where the crowd really started to get into it. Hova proved that he still had it on a couple freestyles. But the highlight of Set 1 had to have been "Empire State of Mind," where Bridget Kelly provided Alicia Keys style vocals and the whole audience was transported to NYC via what truly was now the New York skyline in back of the band.

The second set, however, was where it was at. After making reference (a quick video) to the President stealing his material, Jay-Z fell right back into it with "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." At one point, he excused everyone who came to hear the material from The Blueprint 3, his new album, saying that we were going into overtime and we were done with that. He launched into 10-second snippets moving further back in his catalog all the way to Reasonable Doubt. The crowd was rocking with him all the way up until his finale. I don't remember exactly, but I know that the end of the set consisted of "Hard-Knock Life," "Can I Get A...," Big Pimpin."

Before his last songs, he took a minute to thank the crowd section by section for staying with him for so long, and expressed his gratitude for everyone coming out. He signed some autographs, and even let a girl named Monique drop some rhymes. He took a request to sing "Song Cry," which sounded awesome with just him and a piano, and then closed, as you would expect with "Encore." All in all, a very successful night from a man that shows he's still got it.

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