Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Watch the Throne — Jay-Z edition — last night at Sprint Center

The rap icon in Kansas City.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Well before the Throne was Watched last night at Sprint Center, the concourse was heavy with the stench of weed and cologne. A haze of smoke hung above the jittering crowd. Everywhere you looked: tight miniskirts. A group of 19-year-old sorority girls toting Coach bags huddled together in the middle of the foot traffic, rehearsed smiles glued to their faces, waiting for a camera to flash. Two guys with red XL hoodies bearing with the words “HITM BOYZ” strode past, shaking their heads. Over by the QuikTrip snack area, a legitimate Jay-Z-Beyonce look-alike couple basked in gawkers’ glow.

Past the curtains, inside, on the floor of the arena, a smaller, secondary stage had been planted on the opposite end from the main stage, and it’s there that Jay-Z materialized after the lights went black a little after 9 p.m. Then Kanye West emerged on the main stage. Green and pink prisms of light shot across the crowd, and they blasted into three or four straight Throne cuts, shouting alternating verses at each other from their stage islands. Their respective platforms elevator-ed up about 50 feet in the air. Menacing Rottweilers were projected onto the video screens. Jay and Ye were towering above us all, encased in pyramids of light, spitting fast and hard. The crowd was one big fucking sea of shaking bodies. Ahhhhh, maaannnnnnn, you shoulda been there.

This is the Jay-Z portion of the review. (See April’s take on Kanye here.) So: What was Jay-Z wearing? All black everything. Black Yankees hat, black shirt, black arm bands, black jeans, black boots. The only colorful flair was an American flag in his back pocket. He looked fresh — Hov always looks fresh — and old school compared with Ye’s arty Pharaoh chic dress thing. (I’m not sure where I come down on Kanye’s Egyptian boy-prince aesthetic. It’s kind of hilarious, but alarming, too, right?)

Throughout the evening, the two rappers shared duties equally — I’d bet that if you totaled and compared mic time, it would be down to the seconds — but, let’s be real, Jay is the man in charge here, the father figure, the responsible one. It matters not that Kanye is peaking creatively, or that Jay has been sliding for about 10 years. Ye would not exist without Jay. Even through the fog of his crippling egomania, West seems to still recognize this. And this dynamic is what made for an epic show.

What does Jay-Z bring to the Throne tour? Old-school cred, for one. He still trudges around the stage like a New York rapper, not cold exactly, but distant, where West parades about like a fancy-boy performer, Labrador-eager for the spotlight. At one point, West stood atop a pink pyramid and performed “Runaway” and “Heartless,” and delivered a rambling monologue about how love is hard. The entire time I was just picturing Jay standing somewhere backstage shaking his damn head at the whole thing.

The closest we got to Jay’s heart was halfway through the set, on “Made in America” and “New Day” — the two least excessive songs on Watch the Throne. Images of Martin Luther King Jr. were projected up on the big screen. “Let’s take it back to the stoop,” Jay said, and the two sat down on a ledge of the stage. Toward the end of “New Day,” Jay shouted out “to all the fathers out there taking care of their kids, make yourself heard,” and roars and cries swelled up throughout the crowd before he even completed the sentence. “Thanks for that moment,” he said, and then he stood up, and they went into “Hard Knock Life.”

Other highlights? Jay asking us to “make some noise for the genius that is Kanye” as “I Want You Back” sped up into West’s beat for “Izzo.” (The big screen went dark when Jay said, “Poof” just before the chorus.) “Empire State of Mind” obviously brought the house down. There were phases of the show where it would just be Jay or just be Ye, but toward the end, they started sticking around on each other's tracks. On “Gold Digger,” Jay ceded the stage to Ye, shuffling around in the background, dutifully playing the role of hype man, interjecting “That ain’t right” into Kanye’s tale of lady woes. Then they bit into “99 Problems,” and Ye returned the favor, voicing the role of the meddling policeman. They probably hate each other by now — they almost definitely will by the end of this tour — but it felt like all love up there.

In the middle of what seemed like a half-hour show-closing performance of "Niggas in Paris," Jay and Ye exited the stage. All was dark. The crowd was still on fire. Then we heard Jay's voice: "What y'all trying to say, Kansas City?" Wild roars. "Y'all trying to say you're not ready to go home?" Was there anyone in the place not grinning ear to ear? Our heroes returned, and after another verse, hit pause again. Kanye was projected on the stage-right screen, Jay on stage left. They stood and soaked in 30 seconds of cheers. You got the feeling Kanye would have been happy holding that pose until sunrise. It was on Jay to break it up, which he did, with swagger and precision — like a pro.

SETLIST

H.A.M. - WTT
Who Gon’ Stop Me - WTT
Otis - WTT
Welcome to the Jungle - WTT
Gotta Have It - J
Where I’m From -J
Jigga What, Jigga Who - J
Can’t Tell Me Nothing - K
Flashing Lights - K
Jesus Walks - K
All Falls Down - K
Diamonds from Sierra Leone (remix) - K
Public Service Announcement - J
U Don’t Know - J
Run this Town - J
Monster - K
Power - K
Made in America - WTT
New Day - WTT
Hard Knock Life - J
Izzo (H.O.V.A.) - J
Empire State of Mind - J
Runaway - K
Heartless - K
Stronger - K
On to the Next One - J
Dirt Off Your Shoulder - J
Give It to Me; That’s My Bitch - J
Good Life - K
Touch the Sky - K
All of the Lights - K
Big Pimpin’ — J&K
Gold Digger — J&K
99 Problems — J&K
No Church in the Wild - WTT
Niggas In Paris - WTT
Encore: Niggas In Paris (3x)

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