Last night at the Ogden Theatre for the Denver leg of the Waken Baken tour, Wiz Khalifa completely set it off. The scene at the beginning of the night was set by throngs of teenage girls in Wiz Khalifa shirts, mixed in with a thick crowd that included several DJs from the scene milling about looking creatively inclined, and enough weed smoke to choke a camel.
Yelawolf, the wiry, scrappy fella from Alabama, opened the show with songs from his mixtape Trunk Muzik to a lukewarm reception. Despite a strong national buzz and a performance that included cuts like "I Wish" with Raekwon and "Mixin up the Medicine," his hit single with Juelz Santana, which famously samples Bob Dylan, the MC didn't really seem to resonate with the crowd.
Wearing an oversize hoodie and backed by a DJ who knew what he was doing on the decks, Yelawolf bounced back and forth on the stage confidently, completely oblivious to seeming disinterest of the crowd. His attempts to amplify the audience failed further after he brought several girls up on stage and ordered them to "turn around," highlighting the fact that this was an all ages show and sometimes young girls of all ages do questionable things -- especially with rappers who have questionable rhymes.
Vocally, though, Yelawolf was impressive as he roared through his set. The only problem is he went about six songs too long. While it was surprising how unfamilar the audience appeared to be with his music and mission, Yela didn't do himself any favors with a hideous freestyle over Rick Ross's "BMF."
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Boldly proclaiming that he's "Johnny Cage and Hank Williams," the rapper floundered until finally some disgruntled fan who evidently had had enough sent a water bottle flying. While not a particularly recommended approach to expressing displeasure, it worked. Yelawolf had security call the guy out, to which he then encouraged chants of "fuck you" and promptly exited the stage, leaving the crowd with fevered anticipation for the night's headliner. As the anticipation grew, so too did the clouds of smoke billowing inside the Ogden. When the opening strains of Kush & Orange Juice blared through the speakers, the party really got started. Wiz came out wearing a hoodie, fatigue shorts and wire eye frames, rounding out any rough edges to his appearance as he thanked the crowd in a soft, humble voice for welcoming him back to Denver where "all the good weed is."
Khalifa then proceeded to tear the stage apart with his four man entourage, who acted in sync enough to have been his back up choir. He rocked through a set that included songs like "Still Blazin" "Never Been" and "This Plane" with the stamina of a pro. Although rapping is clearly the epicenter of Khalifa's talent, the lights seemed to shine brighter when he stretched his singing voice on the hook of tracks like "This Plane." The Pittsburgh MC proved that he is a masterful performer by creating an ambiance so intimate that folks might has well have been in their own living room, complete with purple lights and a glass of orange juice. Khalifa also did a good bit of abs rubbing and gyration for the benefit of the screaming girls who see him as a sex symbol.
The most impressive thing about Wiz Khalifa's performance, though, was the enthusiasm in which he delivered his material. He rocked on and on and never missed a beat or a blunt as he furthered the demand for Kush and orange juice all over the world.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I'm a huge Wiz Khalifa fan any day of the week. Random Detail: Yelawolf kind of looked like Tommy Lee last night. By the way: A fire alarm went off during Yela's set.