Live on stage: Jay-Z & Kanye West

After overpromising and underdelivering with their “Watch The Throne” CD this summer, the concept of a mega-tour from Jay-Z and Kanye West seemed like another opportunity to disappoint, given the many ways rap shows can turn into disasters.

But Jay and Kanye bucked the trend, and their Watch The Throne tour stop in Washington, D.C. on Thursday was one of the best live shows I’ve ever attended, a perfect showcase for their ferocity, charisma and power, and a testament to the outstanding careers of two of the biggest artists in music.

In their 2 1/2-hour, nonstop performance, Jay and Kanye blazed through their group songs and took individual solo forays through their greatest hits, a strategy that left the packed crowd at the Verizon Center with hardly a moment to breathe before another huge hit came blasting over the speakers. A concert with no downtime? What a concept!

Of course, the show didn’t start on time, but was anyone expecting that? Right around 9 p.m., Jay and Kanye took their place on giant cubes on the floor of the arena and the bombastic beat of “H.A.M.” kicked in to the screams of the crowd. These cubes then elevated over the crowd and projected images on each side, a stylistic touch that signified this was not just a rap show, but an event.

“Welcome To The Jungle,” a complete nonstarter off “Throne,” was transformed into a menacing delight as images of tigers and cheetahs loomed over the crowd. Lasers sliced through the black during “Jesus Walks” and fire puffed from the stage during “Otis.” For once, it appeared as if some thought had been put into creating a real show.

Jay and Kanye pinballed between stages and their hits, each taking a mini-break while the other went solo. Clad in a kilt and a series of colorful dashiki-type shirts, Kanye worked the crowd into a frenzy with classics like “Touch The Sky,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Flashing Lights.”

Jay, ever the icon, paraded around in his trademark Yankees cap, delivering hits like “Izzo,” “Hard Knock Life,” and “Jigga What, Jigga Who?” with metronomic precision. He even got the pro-D.C. crowd to luxuriate in his New York anthem, “Empire State of Mind.”

You could see the yin-and-yang of these two very different personas during the show. Kanye made one foray into left-field with an auto-tuned set that included an indulgent performance of “Runaway,” while Jay simply stuck to the script and plowed through hit after hit.

Yet for all the concerns that these two large egos could not co-exist together, it was during the group performances that you truly got the feeling that these men are friends and they respect each other’s talent. In the end, their goal was to deliver a great album (which didn’t quite happen) and a powerful show (which certainly did). As they sat on stage, performing the introspective “New Day,” Jay told the crowd, “Thank you for listening.”

If there’s anything close to a hit on “Watch The Throne,” it’s the herky-jerky “Niggas in Paris,” for which the crowd went bananas, chanting “That shit cray!” in unison. Jay and Kanye apparently like the song as well, which may explain why they closed the show by playing it three times. Overkill? Yes. But what else would you expect from The Throne?

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~ by Elliott on November 4, 2011.

One Response to “Live on stage: Jay-Z & Kanye West”

  1. Flashing Lights is a real unsung jam, listening to it now and I had forgotten how lovely the beat is.

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