Concert Review – Jay-Z & Kanye in Las Vegas: That Sh*t Crazy

It is human nature to take two separately awesome things and see what they’re like together. This way of thinking brought us the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, big-screen TVs in strip clubs, laser cats, that cartoon about Nintendo games, this Aerosmith video, TV crossover episodes, and now, the much anticipated collaboration album and tour of Jay-Z and Kanye West.

Hip-hop’s reigning king and clown prince brought their larger-than-life spectacle to the only city capable of handling them both at the same time, Las Vegas.

Playing at the MGM Grand Arena, a venue normally reserved for prize fights, the show actually started out much more subdued and nondescript than I had anticipated. Under cover of the darkened lights, Kanye took his place on the far stage and Jay-Z, quietly, walked up onto the small square stage in the middle of the arena about 100 feet from the far stage. But as the lights came up and the two stages started slowly elevating, revealing giant HD screens on all sides while smoke billowed and lasers from every angle and direction shot out to the bass beat as H to the Izzo and the Louis Vuitton Don’s (Kanye’s nickname, not mine) machine gun back-and-forth began, the night, and the show quickly ramped up to 100 mph and never looked back.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, before I get into the next part of this review, I’d just like to preface it with this. There is not a better hip hop producer out there than Kanye West. He has hands down, the best beats in the game. His lyrics are intelligent and cleverly written, and the productions, samples, and just musical stuff that he comes up with is straight genius. Both Watch The Throne and his own album My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy are on my top 20 albums of 2011 list (even though Kanye’s album came out in November 2010, it’s that good.) The problem is, as a rapper, Kanye’s just not that special. I first noticed during his set at Coachella, in between songs that weren’t autotuned. He has the same slow, lyrical, melodic cadence for every song. Again, his albums are phenomenal, but when it comes to being out there and doing it live, he  quickly sounds like the Ace of Base of rap. Because of this, he relies more on theatricality than prowess as an emcee in his shows and it comes off as just not sounding as good as it does when you hear it at home. It’s like watching Star Wars on Blu-Ray (before George Lucas went back in to finish raping your childhood) and then going to go see Star Wars On Ice. That’s not to say that he was in any way bad. Kanye West live to the backdrop of a Pink Floyd at the planetarium-esque laser light show is at base level, still ridiculously awesome,  but still for the first part of the concert, having the two of them on stage together just made it much more readily evident that Jay-Z is a much better rapper than Kanye.

Jay-Z is hip-hop liquid paper, erasing the imperfections of anything around him and providing a fresh canvas for his greatness. The highlights of the concert were when they would turn off all of the music and lasers and Jay-Z would just stand there with a mic and spit ridiculous. He is hip-hop’s Tim Tebow, carrying whoever he needs to on his back to victory. From the beginning of the show, where they would tear through tracks from Watch The Throne, to the middle of the concert, where Kanye and Jay-Z would each trade blocks of going through their own catalog of hits: “Run This Town,” to “Flashing Lights” to “Good Life” to “Touch The Sky” were met by “H to the Izzo,” “Hard Knock Life,” “Empire State of Mind” and “Big Pimpin’.”

 

 

 

 

 

And then something wonderful happened.

Kanye had just finished up a block of songs: “Love Lockdown,” “Runaway,” and “Stronger” and he sounded better live than I had ever heard him. He stood alone atop the hydraulic square in the middle of the arena, lasers shooting all around him.

 

 

 

 

 

And then it was Jay-Z’s turn. His hooded figure lit only from the back, his silhouette barely visible through the smoke, Jay-Z unleashed a version of “On To The Next One” that if the ancient Spartans had heard, not only would they have defeated the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae (if you’re ever on Jeopardy, you’re welcome) but they would have gone on to conquer the world. Or, at the very least, if they played this for LeBron James, then my beloved Miami Heat would’ve won the NBA championship last year.

From there, Kanye took the baton and gave a performance of “All of the Lights” that was nothing less than spectacular. He stopped the performance three times to have the lighting crew “turn on all of the lights like we did in rehearsal.” It was scripted, but still, the audience was treated to something rarely experienced when dealing with Kanye West live, he was charming. There were no petulant outbursts of a poor, disaffected millionaire who thinks the world is against him, instead he jovially teased the crowd, “It’s okay, you can sing along. This song only was the most nominated at the Grammy’s, you know, song of the year.” He let us know the magnitude of the concert, “This is actually happening to you right now.” And he finally, finally, gave a live performance worthy of his produced ones. From then on it was Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed dropping bombs on my earballs and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s one thing to see Jay-Z or Kanye, but to have each of them being the other person’s hype man for songs like “Gold Digger” and “99 Problems” is sublime. And the last song (and it’s five subsequent encores), Watch The Throne’s biggest single, “N*ggas in Paris,” sealed the deal that if you get to go to this concert and you have 99 problems, worrying about not seeing one of the biggest music spectacles by two of the best in the game will definitely not be one of them (and if you’re Jay-Z, The Verve, or these guys, apparently neither will a bitch.)

*(Concert photos taken by Perry Diamond.)

 

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