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Young African Leaders Cultural Presentation
Funny Bones Improv
Jay-Z, Kanye Watch Throne
by Charlie Christian
After arriving early at the Watch the Throne Experience (presented by Swag Industries in collaboration with Coutour Lifestyle, LLC),a lap of the Superdome was in order to polish off some High Life. New Orleans looked tucked in for the night: cars sliding past on the expressway, Occupiers snuggled low in their tents, even abandoned hospitals stood complacent and resigned. The lights ringing the Dome shifted idly from purple to blue to gold. Except for the drunk couple fighting next to the broken open port-o-potty it felt like a scene from Sleepless in Seattle. That is all to say that what transpired in the Arena a short while later at the hands of Jay-Z and Kanye West was the complete, m***er f***ing opposite.
Having lingered too long, we were rounding the upper hallway when the operatic A-bomb that is “H.A.M.” lashed from the speakers. The audience cracked open, letting out a collective roar rivaling any decibels heard in the Dome Sunday night. Good, God! There they were, out in the middle of the audience, each man on his own raised platform tag-teaming verses back and forth over bobbing flat-brims and raised cell phones. “Merry Christmas, Charlie,” spoke the cosmos. “Thank you, Universe. Thank you!!”
Kanye and Jay Z roamed around their stages in-the-round working the crowd to a foaming. delirium. Slowly, their platforms started to rise. Up, up, up. They stood what looked like two stories above the crowd, now working the edges noticeably less, as TV screens on the sides of the towers looped images of snarling dogs, menacing Great White sharks, and clawing falcons. (The montage seemed prime for a Herzog commentary: “Uns de aboosed animal shelta dat iz de American urban laanscape is beneath dem now az dey rize triumphrant like Gods.”)
After “H.A.M.” and “Who Gon Stop Me” the platforms lowered. The opening bars of “Try a Little Tenderness” rolled over the crowd, Otis Redding’s woefully croon giving the audience a brief reprieve from the frenetic bluster. With an American flag spread behind the main stage, Ye and J emerged side by side basking in grandeur of it all. They actually seemed as happy as I was, like even they couldn’t believe this was real. Then the hook caught, “Got-a got-a, na na na.” We were off again. Fire balls plumed up from behind them as lazers - so many lazers - shot out overhead. This is what the “Waiting for Tonight” video would have looked like if it had been directed by Michael Bay.
The dynamic duo then split up, trading off for tit-for-tat mini-sets of their respective hits. Jay ran through “Where I’m from,” “Nigga What? Nigga Who?,” “Hard Knock LIfe,” “Izzo,” “Dirt off Your Shoulders,” “Big Pimpin’,” and “99 Problems.” Kayne led us through his backpack days to his black Bowie phase with “Jesus Walks,” “Golddigger,” “Heartless,” “Touch the Sky,” “All the Lights,” and “Good Life.”
Do they give out awards for concerts? Cause if so this should win Best Show of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement Award simultaneously. The show was truly the physical embodiment of the album’s excess and braggadocio. That excess seemed less self-congratulatory and more celebratory, cathartic even. Kayne and Jay Z owned the faces on the the big screen, we shouted for their songs and we live vicariously through them, not the other way around. But that didn’t seem to be the point. As silly as it sounsd, the concert was lless a show by them and more a show for us.
I felt all of this as the closer “Niggas in Paris” hit its final notes. I still felt it as they did “Paris” a second time. The luster started to fade on the third. I was going the down the escalator as they ran through it for the seventh time. (Honest. Cross my heart. Seven times.) Hubris seemed to have gotten the best of them. The entire night was about putting on a show for the little people who paid $60 for the nose-bleeds. In return they levied an ego-soothing seven-peat encore tax. So be it. Lady friend in tow, I walked back out in the same docile city I left a few hours before. It was unchanged. I, however, was better, fuller than before. Guess a little of the glitter rubbed off.
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B. E. Mintz
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