The next Bow Wow?
Scream Tour IV
Bow Wow + Omarion + Marques Houston + Bobby Valentino + Pretty Ricky + B5
Madison Square Garden
August 24, 2005
“From Marcy to Madison Square, the only thing that matters is just a matter of years,” said Jay-Z. But years weren’t a part of the equation last night; most of the kiddie-R&B heartthrobs who rolled through town last night on the Scream Tour IV were Garden veterans before they were out of their teens. When people like Bow Wow and Omarion get press attention, it’s usually derisively giggly stuff; Omarion will probably never be taken as seriously as even a second-rate white boy-band refugee like Nick Carter or JC Chasez. But if you believe 106 & Park voters, Bow Wow and Omarion are the biggest stars in the world, supernovas of grace and charm and charisma whose every public move demands complete scrutiny. The list of rappers who could headline a show at Madison Square Garden in 2005 is a short one: Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, maybe Nelly, Dr. Dre if he ever tours again. And Bow Wow. Outside the Garden last night, teenage girls posed for pictures in front of huge airbrushed pictures of Bow Wow and Omarion, and sketchy dudes in snowman T-shirts prowled the aisles selling pictures of the two headliners while screens above the stage played commercials for Omarion’s upcoming autobiography on some surreal alternate-star-system shit. This is the fourth year of the Scream Tour, and that’s, what, half of Jay’s fabled eight-summer tenure, right?
The Scream Tour is aptly named; you’d be hard-pressed to find another arena spectacle that involved its audience so much. The girls in the audience would unleash eardrum-shattering squeals at every pelvic thrust, every smile, every raised eyebrow. They drowned out the music and clogged the aisles, hands upraised. The girl sitting next to me dismissed the dreadlocked rapping guy from Pretty Ricky with “He ugly,” but she still screamed when he slowly tore off his shirt a few minutes later. Throughout the night, the singers asked the audience to hold up their phones, and the result was weirdly beautiful, a sea of orange and green electronic fireflies.
Openers B5 worked their Jackson 5 similarities hard, rocking weird vingagey red waistcoats and trotting their youngest member (he was ten) out last to the loudest cheers, keeping the taller older kids in back during their brief dance sequences. B5 disappeared after a song or two and a dance sequence or two, and the night kept firing along like that, quick and efficient.
Pretty Ricky had little of B5’s youthful enthusiasm; their set instead depended on various varieties of humping: the slow all-body roll, the hard assaultive thrusts, the sort-of-doing-headstands-and-frantically-pumping-the-air. It was pretty gross. They started out wearing urban camouflage, but soon they were down to their boxers and then into ridiculous spangly metallic bathrobes (girl next to me: “What the hell are they wearing?”). Their songs were terrible, but songs weren’t what the night was about.
Bobby Valentino didn’t have any flashy choreography, and his strip-show theatrics were pretty much relegated to taking off his track jacket and letting his pants hang off his ass. Without the benefit of autotuning, his voice sounded muddy and off-key. But Valentino made up for his faults with the most unexpectedly gangsta ten minutes of the show when he brought an extremely happy Juelz Santana to the stage. (Juelz: “I’ve never even been to Madison Square Garden, y’all!”) At least in New York, Santana is clearly every bit as much a heartthrob as anyone else onstage, and the sight of an arena full of 13-year-old girls screaming “Dipset!” isn’t something I’m going to forget anytime soon. After Juelz left the stage, fellow hardass Lil Wayne emerged for his guest appearance on Valentino’s single “Tell Me” remix, and finally Miri Ben-Ari came out to pretend to play inaudible violin and look annoyed during Valentino’s breezy summer jam “Slow Down.”
I only jumped out of my seat once during the show, though, and that moment came during Marques Houston‘s set, when he brought out Mike Jones, who did “Back Then” and disappeared. The only possible explanation I can think of for this truly bizarre combination is that Marques Houston’s last name is Houston. Houston worked harder than any of the night’s other performers, busting out irresistibly smooth dance moves, freestyling on “Candy Shop,” changing costumes between every song, doing a striptease in an onstage changing booth (“Who want my boxers?”), telling the crowd that he was looking for a girl to take back to the hotel (girl next to me: “Every fucking year they say that!”). Houston could probably someday be an Usher-level star if someone would give him some good songs.
It was cute when Bow Wow and Omarion stepped onstage through a sea of flames singing “Best of Both Worlds” like Jay-Z and R. Kelly in Fade to Black. It was less cute when the set turned out something like Jay and R’s aborted joint-headlining tour, minus tantrums, pepper spray, and guns in the audience. Singers should never try to do the joint-headlining thing with rappers; they’ll always wind up being upstaged. Bow Wow and Omarion traded mini-sets, but Bow Wow had twice the stage time as Omarion, and the volume of screams went way down every time O came back to the stage. But it was hard to feel sorry for Omarion, with his insincere stage smile, fake laugh, and insufferably boring slow jams. Omarion compounded the disappointment by neglecting to serve anyone. Bow Wow easily stole the show, pulling off the miracle of making himself sound like a halfway-credible rapper. Bow Wow attacked the mic with real savagery, dropping N-bombs and locking into fiercely precise flows over heavy Atlanta beats in the early part of the set. He eventually turned to slow-jams, of course, but not before bringing out Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat, and Dem Franchise Boyz for the “I Think They Like Me” remix. When he did go into the ballads, he brought out rumored girlfriend Ciara, way taller than him, to sing her part on “Like You.” When sparks rained down from the ceiling and confetti floated down over the audience at the end of the night, it seemed like Bow Wow’s Fade to Black. AJ and Free must be so proud.