Kanye West, Jay-Z team up for spectacular show

Reviewed by Clay De Souza
Times-News correspondent

GREENSBORO — At 9:19 p.m. Sunday night, boos, not cheers, filled the Greensboro Colisuem, until the lights darkened.

You can’t blame fans for displaying their crankiness when a show with a 7:30 p.m. ticket still hasn’t started by 9 p.m. And with the public relations behind the “Watch the Throne” tour keeping any information about opening acts, start times, show setup or anything relevant secret, all that the crowd could do was share frustration.

As the lights dropped at 9:19 p.m. sharp and red laser beams shot down on two spots — one on a square in front of the main stage and the other on another square by the soundboard.

As the thumping backbeat to “H.A.M.” could be heard through most of the arena, the two mountainous stars of this tour — Jay-Z and Kanye West — faced off from their respective cubes, which rose from the floor into towers with coolness, with both of them wearing black on black.

The pairing of these mega-rappers simply is legit is to hip-hop fans.

And while the second night of the 32-date tour wasn’t without lousy sounds, a slightly bloated set list, video footage that sometimes seemed weirdly assembled, the bottom line is that the two stars unveiled a brisk, hits-filled show that was as distracting to watch as it was entertaining.

The natural thing to do with these marquee couplings is to compare the performers. But it’s the huge differences between Jay-Z and West that make them amusingly compatible.

They both have different rapping styles. Jay is a rock-solid rapper. West is a hybrid rapper and pop singer with an occasional auto-tuner to make up for his lack of voice. Jay looks as comfortable as he would at home. West looks as if his life depends on the adulation he receives from a crowd. (This was probably one of the most hated men inAmericaafter that stunt he pulled at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards involving Taylor Swift.) Jay’s outfit changes consisted of swapping black shirts and swiveling his trademark New York Yankees cap.

Kanye rotated through three ensembles, usually wearing a type of skirt over his pants.

When they blended their formidable talents, as on “Otis,” performed against an American flag backdrop with a fiery snap, it immediately made you realize that Jay-Z and West were a rather dynamic duo.

Backed by three keyboardists/DJs lurking in the shadows of the clean, airy stage accented by a slanted ramp and a couple of rows of flashing amber lights, the pair whipped through “Welcome to the Jungle” — with a video of a cheetah catching and destroying a prey and “Gotta Have It,” one of numerous songs that spotlighted Jay-Z’s jaw-dropping rapping skills.

West performed his “Jesus Walks,” dancing sideways across the stage and dropping to his knees, while Jay-Z dodged bursts of flames during his “Public Service Announcement.”

West usually followed Jay-Z’s lead with affectionate movements. Their enjoyment sharing the stage was obvious as they led the crowd through the refrain of “Run This Town” and chanted over the heavy, chest-rattling bass in “Monster” as more video of wild animals played behind them.

The only ballad or crooner was “New Day,” a poignant rap about fatherhood and learning from mistakes. As the pair sat side-by-side for that song, followed by Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life,” they looked like a couple of buddies sitting on the stoop of a brownstone, swapping stories like childhood friends.

For the next round of solo tunes, Jay-Z smiled his way through his undeniably brilliant “Empire State of Mind,” without Alicia Keys.

Then it was West’s turn to test-drive the back-of-the-hall cube, which he did for his trio set of “Runaway,” complete with Auto Tune, “Heartless” and “Stronger.”

It seemed a natural ending, though, when Jay-Z leaned into the hit beat of “Big Pimpin,’ ” then the shifted to a stripped version of “Gold Digger,” ending with Jay leaning into Kanye to gave him some “advice” of some sort for his gold digger … a humorous segue into “99 Problems.”

At that point, many in the crowd shifted toward the exits, not wanting to get stuck in a post-concert crush; let’s not forget this was a cold Sunday night in October even though it was Halloween eve.

But Jay-Z and West still had another half an hour to do, during which the crowd seemed surely tired of standing and dancing.

It was a slow-down finale to a show that had so many peaks.

 Clay De Souza is a student at Alamance Community College and a Teens & Twenties writer.

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