Jay-Z at the Pepsi Center, 3/22/10
Jay-Z is one of the few performers that truly is larger than life. Dude has an undeniably commanding presence on stage. From the opening cut, "Run This Town," until the fittingly titled "Encore," which he closed out the show with nearly two hours later, he had damn near the entire crowd at the Pepsi Center on its feet, arms raised, bouncing with utter abandon, parroting his words back to him. Of all the shows we've been to over the years, there's been scant few performers we've seen capable of inspiring such unbridled enthusiasm, much less maintaining such fevered momentum for the entire show. Springsteen comes to mind.
See also: Photos: Jay-Z at Pepsi Center, 3/22/10
The fact that Jay-Z held our attention is no small feat. On paper at least, the mere notion of watching a rapper -- any rapper -- perform for two straight hours seems as tedious and wearisome as getting your taxes done. While there were some dips -- after a half dozen or so songs from Young Jeezy around midset (which the crowd didn't seem to mind at all, BTW), the air felt like it had been let out of the tires a bit -- for the most part, Jigga was completely riveting for the bulk of his set.
Funny thing is, it's not so much his physical stage presence alone that's magnetic -- for the most part, he stalked either side of the stage displaying his trademark swagger -- as it is when combined the power and conviction of his delivery. He has a way of making every song feel like an anthem. He could probably convince you to invest in a time share with little difficulty. And more impressive, he raps with such a cool, casual confidence, that it all seems completely effortless. In fact, if it wasn't for the beads of perspiration glistening on his forehead, you'd swear the dude wasn't even breaking a sweat.
And, of course, you can't overlook the strength of his songs, all of which seem to be imbued with a vague familiarity. The non-radio hits sound like hits. Even the most casual listeners can't help nodding their heads. Towards the end of set he reached back deep in his catalog and offered full disclosure that while he loves those that came on board during the latter years and they're welcome to stay, he'd understand if they left now and got a jump on traffic. This portion of the set, he explained, was dedicated to the diehards, those who own a copy of Reasonable Doubt, the ones who were there from the beginning. No one got up to leave.
Keep reading for more on the show
Another thing that can't be overlooked is just how much widespread crossover appeal Hova has. Fans from all walks of life were on hand, from the tilted brim hustlers to the dyed-in-the-wool B-boys to the gentleman on our left at the end of the aisle, who proclaimed loudly at the end of the set, to no one in particular, that that was "some sick shit!" This was just after we watched him, eyes closed, arms flailing wildly, dancing the most awkward white man jig we've ever seen this side of Mayor Hickenlooper. Fortunately, our man wasn't alone. Everyone else was quite literally dancing like nobody was watching.
Overall, from the generous set time to the captivating visuals projected on the uniquely shaped LED screens at the rear of the stage, which sort of mimicked a skyline, Jay-Z gave everybody their money's worth last night. The whole thing felt like an event. A tangible sense of excitement permeated the air before we even entered the arena. People were amped and cutting loose like it was a Friday night. From the way they were throwing down, you'd have never guessed this was a school night.
And Jay-Z clearly sensed this vibe, as well, and was gracious about the whole thing. At the end of the set, before he launched into "Encore," he spent three or four minutes calling out members of the audience from all over the arena, directing the camera men to zoom in on them and then thanking them each individually for their devotion.
"I appreciate you all, every single one of you," he said, sincerely. "I'm a kid from Brooklyn. To come out here to Denver and get this kind of love? I appreciate it. I'm not jaded."
The way Jay-Z went out recalled Metallica's show on election night 2008 at they same venue. They turned on the house lights and engaged the audience in a similar fashion. While it's a simple gesture, it goes a long way to making an arena show feel more personal, you know, like this show was just for you. That's the mark of a true player. Say what you will about Jay-Z, but dude's got game.
Personal Bias: I don't believe Jay-Z's the greatest rapper of all time, but I certainly hold him in high esteem.
By The Way: When Trey Songz asked, "Which one of y'all is going home with Trigga?" we assumed it was rhetorical, as evidently, he had ALL the ladies swooning with his sultry come-ons. STS9 played a dependably awesome set, even if many in the crowd didn't really know what to make of them.
Random Detail: Much is made about hip-hop mixed with live instrumentation. Some purists contend that anything made without two turntables and microphone isn't true hip-hop. Jay-Z renders such arguments moot: Backed by a stellar cast of session players who create a compelling backdrops, he remains the unquestionable focal point, while they ultimately blend into the background.
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