Friday, November 04, 2005
Touching the sky, unhooking the stars
On the way in, we were both disappointed to learn that Common had bowed out of the Touch the Sky tour to accept a film role alongside Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta and Alicia Keys. Dammit, I was looking forward to seeing Testify backed by a live band. Kicking off the show as the primer to a still incoming crowd would be Oakland native Keyshia Cole. The rawness and no-nonsense emotions behind such a throaty voice have earned her comparisons as the heir apparent to Mary J. Blige's queen of hip-hop soul throne. But after a brief 6-song set, those lofty parallels were quickly put to rest. Clearly Cole has the talent, but canned backing tapes and two accompanying dancers who looked fresh out the Wade Robson school of stiffness added nothing to her impassioned wails. It boiled what amounts to a solid R&B palette on wax down to underwhelming, middle-of-the road fare up close and personal. Being right in the midst of her 'round-the-way-girl fanbase, current hit "I Should Have Cheated" got a welcome reception with her ghetto soul shtick. By the time Keyshia took a stab at being a showstopper in covering "I'm Going Down," the audience should've been crooning along, instead, most people seemed to still be finding their seats. Yawn.
3rd season American Idol champ Fantasia wisely opted for a full band to give layers to the pedestrian offerings from debut album Free Yourself. Clad in "was her stylist blindfolded?" black biker shorts, thigh-high black boots and frilly white blouse, the outfit had High Point, NC stamped all over it. Fresh out the box, Barrino's fever pitch was a study in dramatics. Not hard to tell how she garnered votes after commanding the stage with the fervor of Patti LaBelle in all her floor rolling, holy ghost glory. Obviously a natural with a flair for gutbucket soul, her clipped phrasing weighed far more bark than bite as her set wore on. The predisposition for taking screeching over the edge was never more evident as she veered full speed ahead into lung-shredder territory again, puncturing first Prince's "Purple Rain", then Aerosmith's "Dream On" with the type of histrionics that would cause Steven Tyler to cower behind his scarf-tied mic stand. She'd do well to employ a vocal coach to drive home the mantra: less IS more, and move onto a new wardrobe consultant.
After the mere appetizers were out of the way, it was time for the main course. And the headliner didn't disappoint. 9 musicians (including a seven-piece string section), 2 background singers and 1 DJ silhouetted behind an eye-catching platform sectioned into boxes that doubled as a video screen: welcome to the Kanye West show. Curtis Mayfield's anthemic "Move On Up" was a fitting opener for the GQ cover boy who made good. Indeed it was just over a year ago when West was still learning the stage ropes as an opener on Usher's The Truth tour. Fast forward to now and he's the marquee above the bill. Flashing white lights introduced "Touch The Sky" spitting "I got to testify, come up in the spot lookin' extra fly" while dressed appropriately sharp.
Whether he was channelling a preacher man's testimony with on the spiritual ode "Jesus Walks," reminiscing about his days as a sweater folder at the Gap on the every man's frustration rant "Spaceship," framing a snippet of the Eurythmics classic, "Sweet Dreams" as a setup for the moody gem "Addiction" off current album Late Registration or continuing to thumb his nose at the President by quipping "Drug dealers buy Jordans/crackheads buy crack/And George Bush get paid off of all dat.." as a softer, but still present political jab, West's move away from the usual entourage in tow with mics yelling the obligatory "wave ya hands in the air, and wave 'em like ya just don't care..." was a refreshing sight to see.
The energy level remained high as he switched gears from the sentimental tribute to his grandmother, Roses (played out as a tug on the heartstrings sitting adjacent to a hospital bed) and We Don't Care - but the noise level really reached another level as the night was heading into the homestretch of I-know-all-the-words-by-heart smash hits. 9 weeks and running as the #1 song in the country (Kanye couldn't rein in his oversized ego by mistakenly claiming the top spot all over the world), Gold Digger had the audience yelling "We want pre-nup!" as if Kobe Bryant's face was freezeframed on the overhead projector. And just when you thought it couldn't get any better - it did. Out walked Jay-Z to an adoring hometown on the brink of pandemonium to perform Encore and PSA. The Roc was now officially in the building. With the crowd turned into a sea of pyramid hand signs, Kanye stood center stage proud as a peacock and crowed, "They can't do what we do baby!" After a triumphant performance, it was hard to disagree.
- Mealone commented at 11/11/2005 08:18:00 PM~
You write like you are getting paid for this. Like Maureen Dowd (or did I say that already).
The ROC stepped in? The crowd went ballistic I am sure?
Kanye makes me SICK. But I must admit the man is a crowd pleaser. True Performer.
Thanks for the detailed explanation. I love it!
- Butta commented at 11/11/2005 10:03:00 PM~
Excellent concert review. I felt like I was there but since Keyshia and Fantasia were, I'm glad that I wasn't. Regardless, aren't you glad that you departed from your routine last Friday night? Sounds like Kanye put on one helluva show. I love when last minute things like that happen and turn out far better than expectations.
- Berry commented at 11/12/2005 08:14:00 AM~
Wonderful review! I saw Kanye perform a little bit last year at the Dave Chappelle concert but I'm sure he has improved 100% since then from what you described. And jigga....got to catch him in concert one day.
- Elle B. commented at 11/12/2005 09:29:00 PM~
diddo to the above comments. I wish I was there.
- princessdominique commented at 11/13/2005 07:02:00 PM~
I feel like I was there. Excellent post. I was trying to email you but couldn't find your addy, I wanted to know if you'd be interested in writing something for an ezine. Email me when you get a break.
- SMW commented at 11/13/2005 09:02:00 PM~
This blog is HOT!
- TriniPrincess commented at 11/15/2005 04:34:00 PM~
Me and Maureen Dowd don't even belong in the same sentence. I LOVE that woman in the non-biblical sense. Kanye without a mic in his hands or behind the boards is like nails on a chalkboard, but the chipmunk is a born performer. That shit was live as hell....and it's almost treason to admit that Jay-Z really does nothing for me (being from BK and all), but I screaming like a groupie went he hit the stage. Shhh, don't tell.
I really am glad I decided to just wing it, because I would've missed out on one helluva time. You know Black folk don't look a gift horse in the mouth...LOL
He really did step his game up. I saw him a year ago when he opened for Usher and Kanye's come a LONG way since then.
Did the tour hit Cali yet?
*perk* Sounds interesting already, I'll give you a shout about that later.
Thanks, 'preciate it.
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