Better than: Goofus and Gallant
"Will they kiss?" my buddy Jeff wondered aloud before the start of last night's Jay-Z and Kanye West show at Staples Center. I was more wrapped up in the question of how many times they would play "Niggas In Paris," their hit song. Would they beat their record of eight, set recently in Chicago?
Still, Jeff's was a fair question. After all, not since Baby and Lil Wayne has there been such an intimate mentor/mentee relationship in hip-hop. You know for certain Jay loves Kanye because he lets him come out in a freaking skirt every night of the tour! (Excuse me, a kilt.)I mean, sure Jay is into Grizzly Bear, but he remains concerned about what the guys on the corners think, and Kanye in a skirt is not too hood. And considering that these shows in support of Watch The Throne are just the two of them -- no guest spots at all -- there's not a lot of room on-stage for Jay to hide from his protegee's political statements. (Unless I missed something and Kanye, like Andre 3000, is partly Scottish.)
Whatever the case, it was hard not to swoon for this lovefest. Jay is known for surrounding himself with the hottest rappers of the moment, and it wasn't long ago he was playing Yankee Stadium and whatever stadium the Tigers play in with Eminem. For Jay to tap 'Ye for this tour surely meant the world to his underling; my theory is that Jay reads Pitchfork, and his mind was blown by that 10.0 for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Last night's show started in a totally awesome way. It was a cold opening -- no warm-up act, no announcer, no nothing, just Kanye popping up on the stage. "H.A.M." kicked in, and then all of the sudden Jay appeared on a separate stage in the middle of the floor, that nobody had even realized was there. And then both stages started rising toward the ceiling, twenty feet up or so, with the bases of each turning into video screens showing videos of sharks and vicious canines.
Jay soon joined Kanye on the main stage for "Otis," in front of a giant American flag that stretched to the rafters. (It was a slightly altered, square flag, with the right side sheared off. You know it's illegal to deface an American flag, by the way. Just sayin'.) After that song the flag went away, and for the rest of the night the two performers' motions were captured by some sort of super-high def camera that projected on two jumbotron screens behind them. It was many cuts above the usual live video feeds you get at concerts; you could see the freaking sweat beading down their necks.
And there was a lot of it. They both worked hard, although Jay is such a seasoned pro at this point he didn't strain as much. Dude exudes charisma; he hardly seems to need to try. Before "Empire State Of Mind" -- a song that, say, fifteen years might have pissed folks off if it were played here -- he thanked the crowd for our "hospitality" and then said he wanted to bring us into his house. Whatever. "I make a Yankee cap more famous than a Yankee can" is still arrogant.
His songs were mainly crowd pleasers ("Big Pimpin'" "99 Problems" "Public Service Announcement") with a few deep cuts in there, and the crowd seemed most excited when he was performing solo. But to me Kanye put on the more interesting show; he's not as polished, and further doesn't seem as interested in Jay's running-for-governor smoothness. During "Runaway," high atop the risen, now-red stage on the floor, his voice full of Auto-Tune, he launched into one of the night's only impromptu moments, singing the words "If you love someone tonight/ Hold on real tight" over and over. It was sweet.
So, did they kiss? No. But Jay laughed at most of Kanye's jokes, and when it was time for "Niggas In Paris" they really started having fun. "Let's go!" Jay yelled, and they launched into it. When Kanye dashed off his lyrics about getting married at the mall and hanging out in a bathroom stall and whatnot -- which probably took him ten minutes to write, tops -- he probably never imagined he'd be performing them hundreds of times on this tour. (Actually, this time they let the beat drop and had the audience perform those lyrics, which always seems lazy to me.)
They played the song once. And then they played it again. Pretty much all the way through both times. And then they acted like they were going to play it again, but instead segued into some sort of remix, with all these cool lazer lights raining down and a dark backdrop on the screen; it felt like a thunderstorm. Then they left the stage, and returned for their encore(s?)
How many more times would they play it?