Entertainment news and musings from a pop culture geek

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Watch the Throne Tour: Illest Motherfuckers Alive

The show starts with that trippy, recurring interlude music from the album. Has anyone even figured out where that's from yet? The Sting? Some trippy, classical French ish? No one knows, but it's provocative. And it's an awesomely obvious, obviously awesome way to get a super fan like me hyped after waiting ninety minutes for The Throne to take stage. Oh, and the rest of the thousands of fans that herded into the East Rutherford IZOD center.

Under cover of darkness, both members of rap's most high profile supergroup appear seemingly out of thin air. But they're not together. Mr. West is on the stage all by himself. It takes the crowd .07 seconds to realize King Hov is on the mid-arena platform that we'd all been staring curiously at during the waiting time. "Oh shit yo, they're gonna perform the whole show on separate stages! They really do have beef now!" No, simple Page Six reader, they don't. Two songs and one "Otis" performance later they were right next to each other, comfortably rapping their hearts out in front of the now signature Givenchy-ied out flag. But those separate platforms though? Best gimmick of the night. As soon as the interlude music cut, the intro to "HAM" started up and during Jay's verse...those shits rose. As in elevated each dude about forty feet in the fucking air. You are now watching the thrones. Literally. And if that wasn't enough, the cubes were fitted with screens on all four sides playing accompanying images. Watching the Greatest Rapper of All Time and one of the Best Rappers Alive volleying bars, over and across the crowd, over titanic beats like "HAM" and "Who Gon Stop Me," while 2D great white sharks swim underneath them: easily the most theatrical, enjoyable part of the whole 2 1/2 hour show.

From then on it was stadium-ready hit after hit after hit, new classic and old. With absolutely no intermissions, Jay and Ye effortlessly bobbed and weaved through past and present jams - sometimes sharing the stage, other times ceding the show to the other for a mini solo-set - with Reasonable Doubt,  Blueprint 2, Kingdom Come and American Gangster the only projects not represented. (The least energetic moment was probably when Kanye briefly went into the 808s vault with "Heartless" though.) Of Throne's 12 tracks, the only songs left out were "Made in America" and "Murder to Excellence" although apparently these are sometimes included on random nights. "HAM" was the only deluxe edition track performed.

The show, like the album, was a perfect blend of both artists different styles. The lights that Kanye presented back in "Glow in the Dark" paled in comparison to the epilepsy-inducing laser show that was on display here. Meanwhile Jay continues to fuck with the video screen with correlating images per song, although it sometimes got a little corny. Watching lions ferociously devour deer during "Welcome to the Jungle" was acceptable. "National Geographic-esque close-ups of a soaring eagle during "Touch the Sky" were not. By the way, I know a lot of you have pegged "Jungle" as your least favorite track. Well, that shit banged on the arena speakers and was the fourth or fifth song in the setlist. I suggest revisiting it with your best sound system and a tab opened to rapgenius.com.

The showmanship wasn't only evident in the physical effects though. The raw, personal songs like "Hard Knock Life" and "New Day" were rapped side-by-side sitting down, as if the stage were a Brooklyn stoop. For the privately personal, subliminal but you-know-who-you-are "Why I Love You" the duo retreated from the foreground, Jay's blacked out Don C snapback brim down over his eyes. "What a Wonderful World" played ironically against a slideshow depicting poverty, decay, and crime. (Curiously this segued into "No Church in the Wild" instead of the assumed "Murder to Excellence.") And of course, Martin Louis the Fashionisto changed three times, each shirt trendily flowing down to his kneecaps, including the infamous Givenchy shirt as kilt that he probably wears on laundry day. And towards the end, the setlist hilariously, intentionally segued from "Big Pimpin" to "Gold Digger" to "99 Problems." Get it?

So who murdered who? As with most Jay facts that I state, it will probably be written off as Stan bias when I say he has the better stage presence. Kanye was far from terrible and for the most part kept up with Big Bro's energetic standard. But Jigga's come a long way since that travesty of a Showtime concert that had him Beans, Freeway and Dame laboring around the stage like a bunch of fat cats. He can rouse a crowd in his sleep, and he's got a litany of hits to make, and keep, an audience on their feet and losing their voice. Proof: when "Big Pimpin" dropped the water guy said fuck all and diddy bopped his heart out in the aisle. Truth. Plus dropping the beat and flowing acappella live to "Nigga What, Nigga Who" (and now his show-stopping "Who Gon Stop Me" closer) will always be cooler than Kanye's autotune warbling about Amber and love. Sorry.

This was probably one of few concerts where I never even considered sitting down once. Two and a half hours sounds like a long ass time to be standing but I never looked at my watch or yawned. Shit was like the live tour version of The Dark Knight. Funniest part is, they even missed some songs. A shit  load in fact. I don't know about you, but after the epic three-time but not one time too many encore of "Niggas in Paris" I could've stayed to watch them tear through "Primetime," "IMA," "So Appalled," "Hate," "The Bounce" for sentimentality's sake (their first collaboration) and "Never Let Me Down" (one of their most powerful collaborations). Was it better than Fade to Black, which I was fortunate to have attended? No, and not because my seats were closer for that show. But if there was ever vindication that Jay has the illest catalog out, that Ye is gunning for Top 5 status and that the album itself is a damn near if not classic, this was it.

Watch the Throne tour. Exactly what the fuck you'd think.