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Tuesday, July 21, 2009 Ogden Theatre Better Than: Chaperoning an unchaperoned prom. Not that different, but definitely better.
It's not often someone asks you, during the first song of a headliner's set, "Who is this?" It's even less often that when you answer with the name of the headliner, the person actually argues with you. But it happened to me last night, two songs into Kid Cudi's masterful show at the Ogden. And I have to say, I can't blame the dude.
Here's why he was confused: Because Asher Roth and Kid Cudi are hanging out in the same general area of the fame stratosphere, neither is billed as the Top Backpacker on their "Great Hangover Tour." In fact, after the last song of second-opener B.o.B. -- who delivered wonderfully eclectic set himself, flanked by two angelic backing singers -- the crowd seemed genuinely confused by what would come next. Apparently the two MCs have been alternating headlining spots, but no one in the crowded Ogden knew that -- which is why, just before the next artist took the stage, half the crowd was chanting "Cudi" and the other half "Roth." Which was weird, because if you were a bigger fan of either, you actually would want him to come out second, and would thus be chanting for the other guy.
You can see how this was confusing -- why the guy next to me, obviously a Cudi fan, refused to believe that Cudi would come out after Roth. More than that, it's a good way to kill a concert's momentum, as Roth would learn -- later.
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That's right: Cudi came out first, cloaked in an MJish leather jacket and aviators. The next 45 minutes were a study in musical efficiency. On a naked stage, with a DJ tucked in the dark, Cudi broke into a low-, slow-singing intro to "Down and Out," the opening track on the mixtape that made him famous. From there, he worked his way through most of his crowd-pleasing tracks, with "Man on the Moon," "Embrace the Martian," and his first album single "Make Her Say" netting the best response from the crowd, whose hands and heads rarely stopped bouncing.
Cudi understands, on record and live, what the great performers do: that highs aren't as high without the low, that fast isn't as fast without some slow. Just when his baritone singing voice was about to make you head to the bar for a fresh beer, the bass dropped in, and you were off and vibing again.
Nowhere did he prove this more than his second-to-last song, the mega-hit "Day N Night." Cudi's no doubt sick of it by now, and could have buried a shortened version of it in the middle of his set. But he saved it to the end -- a shrewd businessman from the mean streets of Shaker Heights, this kid -- starting in a capella, building to the original radio version, then to a slightly hyped up version, then to the dance-music remix that sort of makes you wish you liked hard drugs. The energy in the place could have revived Walter Conkrite. He followed that with the camp-fire worthy "Heaven at Night," which had'em swaying. It was the perfect way to end a show.
Which is why it was so awkward that it wasn't the end.
For starters, much of the crowd filed out -- some no doubt believing they'd just seen the headliner. No way there was more show. By the time Roth rolled onto the stage on a miniature Cadillac SUV fifteen minutes later, the place was a little empty and a lot flat, so much so his DJ had to warm-up the crowd like a greeter at a talk show.
From there, Roth emptied his Jansport of tricks, trying desperately to get the crowd to vibe with him. His hypeman passed out water bottles, he encouraged everyone to "roll one up" (many obliged), he fake-hit a cartoon-sized blunt, and he blathered on about how Denver was the greatest city in the world. You know, because our weed is so awesome.
But while the sheer volume of his set -- backed by a skilled if spotty drummer, the scratch-happy DJ Recognize, and assorted hype-dudes in assorted costumes -- relit some of the fire extinguished by Cudi's departure, it mostly fell flat. Roth has been compared to Eminem -- mostly because their voices sound weirdly similar on record, but also because he's somewhat limber linguistically, and isn't afraid to dive deep into his rhyming dictionary. And on his album, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, he does some interesting things musically.
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But live, he's so hell-bent on getting the party started, he cuts right to the coked-up skinny-dipping after-party without serving cheese cubes or greeting his guests. It's all loud, all the time, every other syllable repeated by what seemed like 47 hypemen. By the time he worked through "Blunt Cruise" and "As I Em" and made his way to his radio hit, "I Love College," he'd expended all of his party-starting capital. There was still head-bobbing and hand-dropping, but it felt forced, obligated.
You know when you have a kick-ass night out that peaks at 1 a.m., but you don't want it to end so you go back to so-and-so's house for frozen pizza and three more beers, and at 4 a.m. you're like, "What the hell I'm doing? Why aren't I in bed?"
That's what this felt like. And it made me wish I'd filed out with some of the Cudi fans.
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: I've worn out Cudi's mixtape, and haven't given Roth's album enough proper listens. Random Detail: I spent four years living in Cudi's hometown of Cleveland, and was likely the only one who knew what he was talking about when he rapped that he "stay(s) away from reading the Plain Dealer/most of my niggas back in Cleveland were plain dealers." By the Way: I missed the first opener, Pac Div, and will now try to make it up to them by sending you to their MySpace page. Pretty weak, I know.