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“Again!” yelled Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, at the end of Sunday’s “Watch The Throne” concert, a double bill of the hip-hop king and his co-ruler, Kanye West, two of the biggest stars in rap, which puts them squarely in the running for biggest of all music genres. The Brooklyn rapper grinned widely at West, and then it started: “N****s in Paris,” the duo’s current hit. For the sixth time. In a row.
Only a truly demented pair of stars, no matter how big, would play the same song over and over like a CD player stuck on repeat. But not only did the twosome do it, they got away with it, each run-through more exciting and energetic than the last. It wasn’t just energy, though, that made this concert an event. Thanks to a monster light show, a slew of irrepressible, hard-hitting grooves, and (most importantly) a crazy-charming bromance that clearly demonstrates these two are enjoying their unprecedented run at the top of the charts as much as their fans enjoy their over-the top, blow-the-roof-off-the arena live show.
Of course, this isn’t their first time at the rodeo: both rappers have put on hugely successful shows in the past couple of years as solo acts, with Jay-Z offering an orchestral-abetted extravaganza and West delivering a festival-headlining Greek chorus with athletic dancers and a three-act structure.
That said, this tour is totally different. Despite a Pink Floyd-level laser show and floor-to-ceiling pyrotechnics that would make Rammstein proud, compared to their past efforts, “Watch the Throne” almost feels stripped down: just two dudes on stage flowing back and forth and over the top of each other, backed by a three-piece band so hidden in the shadows that sometimes it was unclear how many players there actually were.
The show kicks off with the two megastars on smaller stages, each on opposite sides of the arena; halfway through the first song, “H.A.M.,” the rafters rise, with the twosome literally facing off against each other across the room, basically balanced atop monstrous video towers. The co-headlining equality of the double bill is evident throughout the show, with collaborative segments intermingled with solo performances from each as they blowi their way through a formidable cadre of hits: inJay-Z’s case, call-and-response blowouts like “Jigga What, Jigga Who” and early singalongs like “Hard Knock Life” as well as the pop smash “Empire State of Mind,” while West uses parts of his portions to snap his way through a growling, dark remix of “Stronger,” roll out “Jesus Walks,” and blast off “All Of The Lights” — on this night, restarted three times before getting the house lights on and the crowd yelling along to his level of satisfaction.
Each is a formidable presence on his own, but highlights of the show came when the two played off of each other. Although Watch The Throne, the collaborative album, doesn’t necessarily showcase either of their best material (with the exception of the poignant “Made In America,” accompanied by a full house of lighters and cell phone flashlights), the two of them enjoying each other’s company, spitting back and forth on stage, slapping hands with members of the audience through nearly all the record’s songs — well, that was the true pleasure that came through at the end of the night, and it’s something that can be enjoyed on repeat, over and over again.
Photo by: Armando Brown, OC Register
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