Nicki Minaj at Wells Fargo Theatre, 8/2/12
A Nicki Minaj worldwide tour must be hard to plan for. Every new audience, every new visual, every different genre of song -- no formula to follow. Like her albums, especially Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, the tracklist of which is so divided it hurts to listen to the full thing, Minaj's showing at last night's show at the Wells Fargo Theatre was, in a word, eccentric. In a few other words: All over the place.
It was hard not to be entertained by Minaj during her show last night. But who exactly was entertained is the real question. Was her audience composed of teenage girls, as you'd think? Parents? Twenty-somethings who enjoy Minaj's Frankenstein-esque singles, which play as if they'd been stitched together by a doctor? It wasn't clear, and at one point early on, Minaj didn't quite know either.
For digestibility's sake, Minaj carefully constructed a setlist according to genre. Hip-hop goes here, pop goes there, and throw the man-hating slow jam and the independent woman's fierce cry for help ("Fire Burns" and "Save Me," respectively) immediately before the blast of songs only diehard fans would know, and there you have it. In between, the house DJ spins tracks that didn't make the setlist -- including "Check It Out," which deserved oh so badly to be choreographed -- and poorly (no, terribly) sings along to them. Et voilà. You have a show that was as unpolished as her back catalogue.
After a barrage of her RedOne-produced singles, "Starships" and "Pound The Alarm" -- the best examples of hip-hop-meets-pop-turned-dance in the singer's catalogue -- Minaj finished her one-two punch with a right hook that didn't quite hit. Even on her second album, "Whip It" follows these tracks in order (it's even produced by the same guy!). But live? No one really caught on. So Minaj had to stop "Whip It" after the first chorus and ask Denver to prove they knew it. A few lines in from the first verse, and "Whip It" quickly segued into "Turn Me On."
Despite these shortcomings, Minaj brought her fans along for a ride that proved as thrilling as it was bumpy, unpredictable as it was carefully constructed. Her flows were so tight when she really got going that Minaj made her opener, 2 Chainz, and his acid tongue look lazy. Her vocals on tracks like "Right By My Side" were smooth, pitch-perfect, beautiful even. And when Minaj wasn't required to pull double duty as a singer and rapper in the same song, her voice really soared.
If only Minaj performed her better songs in their entirety, instead of switching songs after the first or second verse and the chorus -- like most hip-hop artists, including 2 Chainz last night, tend to favor during live shows. Her opener, "Roman's Revenge," which borrowed Catholic imagery similar to her performance of "Roman's Holiday" at the Grammys this year, was three minutes too short.
But what Minaj lacked in duration, she made up for in theatricality. With every genre, a new attitude. With every dance step, a corresponding look -- ranging from the piercing gaze of her alter ego Roman to the sincere eye twinkle of Martha. Minaj sold it all, and her fans -- oh, those dedicated Barbz -- ate it up.
The standout was easily "Super Bass," which saw Minaj move in time with her ripped dancers to the same choreography seen in the corresponding video. Appropriately, the bass levels -- already set to Earthquake throughout the show -- ramped into overdrive for a song all about the boom booms of the heart.
No doubt, the show, much like the crossover appeal of "Super Bass," had something for everyone: Hip-pop for the ladies, mixtape hip-hop for their boyfriends and dance-pop for all of their gay husbands. But, perhaps most importantly, it had a freshness that kept even Minaj herself guessing -- and that's what made Minaj's Pink Friday tour so believable on a Thursday night in Denver: Her every motion was authentic, no matter what label you put on it.
2 Chainz and crew went hard with their hour-long set. "Riot" and "Boo" saw 2 Chainz spit rhymes without so much as a breath between longer verses. His set, like Minaj's "Super Bass," had the backing track on blast for its entirety, and even when he promoted his new album, Based On A True Story, dropping in two weeks, the speakers cracked.
Nick Minaj with 2 Chainz at Wells Fargo Theatre last night. Slide show: Nicki Minaj in Denver
Wells Fargo Theatre - 8/2/12
01. "Roman's Revenge"
02. "I Am Your Leader"
03. "Beez In The Trap" with 2 Chainz
04. "Stupid Hoe"
05. "Dance (A$$) (Remix)" by Big Sean feat. Nicki Minaj
06. "Right By My Side"
07. "Moment 4 Life"
08. DJ Interlude: "Where Them Girls At" by David Guetta feat. Flo Rida Nicki Minaj
10. "Pound The Alarm"
11. "Whip It"
12. "Turn Me On" by David Guetta feat. Nicki Minaj
13. DJ Interlude: "Automatic" / "Check On It" by Nicki Minaj feat. will.i.am / "Fly" by Nicki Minaj feat. Rihanna
14. "Fire Burns"
15. "Save Me"
16. DJ Interlude: "Marilyn Monroe"
17. "Itty Bitty Piggy"
18. Medley: "Letting Go (Dutty Love)" by Sean Kingston feat. Nicki Minaj / "Hold Yuh" by Gyptian / "Come On A Cone" / "Make Me Proud" by Drake feat. Nicki Minaj / "My Chick Bad" by Ludacris feat. Nicki Minaj / "Bottoms Up" by Trey Songz feat. Nicki Minaj / "BedRock" by Young Money (Lil Wayne, Gudda Gudda, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Tyga and Jae Millz) feat. Lloyd
19. "Super Bass"
Slide show: Nicki Minaj in Denver
Personal Bias: At least two sixteen-year-olds mistakenly grinded on me during the 2 Chainz show. It reaffirmed my age and my whiteness.
By the Way: I don't know if Minaj was ill or exactly what was happening backstage, but, my god, why does the woman need five minutes between clusters of songs to change into an equally seductive outfit and wig? The concert's energy plummeted during the pause. Master the art of the thirty-second quick change and -- pretty please -- cut that vapid house DJ.
Random Detail: Shout out to my date of the evening for predicting the fight that broke out near our row and for making us -- and everyone else around else -- steer clear. In fact, she had a better handle on it than security did.
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