This actually happened
Monday, September 13
Better than: The shows in Detroit, I have to think. Sorry, Detroit.
So let’s start somewhere in the middle: Chris Martin! The dude from Coldplay! Seriously! Out he shuffles roughly halfway through Jay-Z’s nearly-two-hour parade of star-studded absurdity, gingerly singing the hook to “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love),” and soon a bewildered sold-out Yankee Stadium crowd is cajoled into singing the whoa-oh-OH-oh-oh hook to “Vida La Vida,” not quite comprehending how this happened, or why. Chris also sits down at a piano and taps out the riff to “Clocks,” as Jay raps about how success is like suicide. Mercifully, they do not do “Beach Chair,” which would’ve been actual suicide.
This show was incredible.
You have to love Jay-Z, his ambition and audacity, the sort of guy comfortable telling us that “This is a historic night — there will never be another night like this,” despite the fact that this is the first of two back-to-back shows. And yet, as spectacle, this surpasses all expectations. His set essentially starts with Kanye West, who invades “Run This Town” wearing an outfit suspiciously similar to what he wore at the VMA’s 24 hours earlier, and digs in for a good 15 minutes: the “Power” remix, “Monster” (itself invaded by a barking Nicki Minaj), “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Good Life.” Utter pandemonium. It’s a miracle this show even survives such an immediate burst of adrenaline, that the next 90 minutes don’t feel utterly anticlimactic.
Fortunately Jay-Z is fantastic live — his band is a fearsome, swaggering thing, and even though an echo-y baseball stadium and the tens of thousands of screaming, diamond-sign-flashing worshipers packed inside it tend to obliterate nearly all the nuances, you can still appreciate the fact that, for example, the clarinet part on “D.O.A.” is performed on an actual clarinet. They rip into “Jigga What, Jigga Who,” “U Don’t Know,” “Big Pimpin’,” “99 Problems,” and all the rest with seasoned-pro aplomb, ably bridging the gaps between bonkers cameos: Swizz Beatz for “On to the Next One,” Eminem (yeah, we’ll get to him) for “Renegade,” Drake for “Light Up” (Jay hitting his verse as hard as he hits anything tonight). And finally, he found a way to make “Young Forever” tolerable: bring Beyoncé out to sing the hook. Yet more pandemonium.
Not that he needs all this help, necessarily — after the obligatorily triumphant “Empire State of Mind” (Bridget Kelly filling in for Alicia Keys), Jay sneers at anyone with the gall to head for the exits early and launches into a quick-hit last-gasp fusillade: “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Dirt on Your Shoulder,” “I Just Wanna Love U,” “Encore,” and so on, just the ubiquitous Memphis Bleek by his side, proving he could’ve done this all by himself if he had to. Glad he didn’t, though. Only in New York, only once in a lifetime. (OK, twice.)
Ah, Eminem. The ostensible co-headliner. When these guys were in Detroit last week, he took the lead, so it’s his turn to go on first and generally defer, and indeed when this whole thing is over at 12:30 or so, it’s hard to even recall his own frequently excellent 90-minute set at all. What lingers is the sense that he doesn’t seem to regard this as entertainment: From the aggro stomp of “Won’t Back Down” onward it’s like a Rocky training montage and we’re the slabs of meat. You get to feeling like his therapist. He stalks the stage in the perfunctory hoodie, veering wildly both emotionally and chronologically, “White Trash Party” colliding in midair with “Kill You,” “The Way I Am” so unhinged and violent it nearly implodes, “Cleaning Out My Closet” featuring an Em-directed stadium-wide chant of “Fuck you, Mama,” which is super uncomfortable.
Eminem brings out some friends, too: D12 if you’re into that sort of thing, 50 Cent doing a three-song mini-set in a sort of neon-suit Tron getup that gets my fashion-conscious friends real excited, and Dr. Dre out for the same slightly uncomfortable coronation he got in Detroit. And though Em barrels through all his old hits, nothing resonates with the crowd quite like “Love the Way You Lie,” actually, Rihanna’s moaning chorus taken over by every single female voice in the building, the rare reminder that the people in the audience tonight actually outnumber the people parading onstage. Barely.
Author Bias: Jay at All Points West is on the short list of my favorite concerts from 2009. This was probably better.
Overheard: “Are you offended by the smell of marijuana?”
Random Notebook Dump: One smaller scoreboard halfway up the bowl of the arena displays the lyrics to every song in real time; the profanity is a real issue. “Motherfucking” is generally rendered as “MF’G.”