Tonight, the queue for tickets at the LG Arena, was incredibly long, despite the box office being fully staffed. Needless to say this meant I only got to see the final couple of songs by Drake; however, he had obviously won overthe crowd as most people were up and dancing. Drake’s enthusiasm and passion is noticeable and it is easy to see why he is flagged as a future star of the hip hop scene. His band are a tight unit whilst he walks the length of the stage giving his all to Best I Ever Had. Before he leaves the stage, he suitably encourages the crowd to get ready for Jay-Z and thanking him for the opportunity to play, fulfilling all the criteria for a successful support act.
Ten minutes before Jay-Z enters the stage, the screens show a clock counting down which adds to the anticipation flowing throughout the arena. As the clock hits zero, the band take their positions and hip hop’s golden boy rises in the middle of the stage, lit by a solitary spotlight. After a brief introduction he launches into Run This Town, demonstrating why he is at the top of his game with smooth lyrics that drip off his tongue in perfect rhythm. He owns the stage, striding from side to side in a laid back yet dominant manner, and the crowd, who are, instantly, under his control as he commands them to bounce. Jay-Z’s band add a real depth to the tracks, particularly the two drummers who at times play in accurate synchronicity giving the songs an added weight which relays perfectly in the arena.
There is no excessive complexity to Jay-Z’s backdrop or stage attire, just some well placed lights, that come into their own during Empire State of Mind, and fine pair of shades that remain on for the majority of the set. This simplicity keeps the focus solely on the man and his words, which is where the talent lies. The first half of the set predominantly consisted of his more recent work including On To The Next One and the awesome 99 Problems, which saw the arena erupt, rightly so. Each track flowed with ease into the next and you can visibly see the enjoyment on the band’s faces to be playing in and be involved in the show. Halfway through, Jay-Z pulls out the massive hit Empire State of Mind, with Bridget Kelly admirably stepping into Alicia Keys shoes. Despite the success of this song, he accentuates each word with such passion that it adds another level to the track.
The second half of the set is dedicated to Jay-Z’s earlier work including tracks such as Izzo (H.O.V.A.), ’03 Bonnie and Clyde and Jigga What, Jigga Who, which has the audience participating to the maximum. The energy levels, both on and off stage, fail to dip throughout the set, which demonstrates what a skilled showman Jay-Z really is; and you get a sense that both parties are feeding off one another’s vigour. After Show Me What You Got, heading towards the end of the set, Jay-Z turns the camera onto various people in the audience, praising them for their clothes and attitude in a sincere manner, resulting in one bloke being called up onto the stage to rap with his idol.
Regardless of his wealth and status, Jay-Z shows nothing but respect to his loyal fans and is genuinely grateful for their support over the years. The set draws to a close with Big Pimpin’, Hard Knock Life and Young Forever, that sees Mr Hudson join in the party on stage. After a rammed hour and a half set, Jay-Z leaves the stage to rapturous applause, which is wholly deserved as he appears to have given his heart and soul to the performance.
I am not usually drawn to this genre of music, but Jay-Z has illustrated the true lyrical beauty and skill of hip hop when it’s at its finest. Furthermore, his eclectic selection of backing tracks, which ranged from Bhangra Nights to The Doors’ 5 to 1, shows his vast knowledge and appreciation of a range of musical styles and the part they have to play in his creation. Jay-Z is the master and long may he reign. My only moan about the whole event is that I wish people in the audience would appreciate music without having to watch it or record it through their phones; immerse yourself in the live experience instead of trying to capture it on a tiny screen.
Review – Toni Woodward
Photos – Steve Gerrard