Jay-Z And Vic Menza At Barclay Center, Monday, November 27th, 2017, Reviewed
So here we were at Barclay’s Center, home of the Nets, last night, where Jay-z is woke and I am half asleep. A repentant Jay-Z, that’s like a monogamous James Bond: you can have it if you must but why bother? Remember how Sean Connery was such a badass, fucked the girls and made em cry before saving the world on her majesty’s secret service. Now fast forward to Daniel Craig who is so fucked up he can’t even save Judi Dench and it is him who does the crying. Who needs it? It’s never too late to enjoy mindless entertainment and Hova? The dick waving, drug slinging, rapper par excellence with unner dolla bills and billion dolla bills as well has become the Daniel Craig of rap. At Barclay’s he stopped the concert early on with a “enough of this Sean Carter sensitive shit” before throwing down a quarter of the way through his very good, high intensity, full live band performing 4:44 Tour hometown Brooklyn Boy hootenanny.
The truth is, you might be in the market to hear Jay Z preach to the converted about Black excellence and Black platitudes. Me, I respond to his preposterous self-importance much the same way as S. Carter did on his best song of the 21st century, maybe ever, “The Story Of OJ,” with a shrug and with an OK.
I blame Oprah Winfrey for all this shit.
I can’t take wooly minded you can be anything you want stuff, not for blacks, not for whites, not for starving infants in Yemen. It isn’t true. Jay-Z didn’t change the hustlers game (Louis Armstrong? Maybe), because he made it means he had the talent and the luck not that institutionalized racism is a question of mind over matter . The essence of rap is either individualism or street gang, as long as Jay Z does what he is best at, no problem, when he tries to share his knowledge he drags his show through promulgations he ain’t smart enough to sell.Good at sex, drugs, and money, not so hot at community reach out. But he can certainly rap, saving “Bam” from the also ran (and eight Grammy Award nominations) 4:44 and tightening his grip on his entire 13 album career in a 105 minute vise.
Opening for Hova was the Kanye West approved Vic Mensa. Vic started his half hour performance with the entire recorded version of “Wolves” over the loudspeakers. The first time I noticed Vic was performing “Wolves” with West and Sia on Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary Special and being pretty much blown away. Since then I’ve found Mensa maybe a touch bland, and of course wide awoke but with a closer sense of streets are listening than Jay Z nowadays. South Side Of Chicago is the modern day Bed Stuy and Vic, who can tell a story in song and with a guitarist and a computer programmer to help fill out his sound, keeps it more than real. His Weezer featuring “Homewrecker” was a showstopper, as was “Rollin’ Like A Stoner”. “16 Shots” came with both a lecture and NWA’s old message “Fuck da Police”. Vic has a way to go but he has the skill to get there.
The best thing about Jay-Z in 2017, if you don’t include one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard about racism, is his live band. Hova performed in the round mid-auditorium on a raised stage with a ridge around the stage and eight triangular screens that folded into a prism before expanding as he rapped midstage on the opening “Kill Jay-Z’ and contracting to hide him during the two intermissions. The band were in pits around the stage. One for computers, one for strings, one for the two drummers. There was plenty of recorded tracks but it was still essentially a live performance and as far as sound and vibe goes, it makes a difference. The band were singing along at the top of their voices and Jay Z used the real estate with rare skill, prowling the edges, reaching the lip of his stage, placing himself in the middle of a lazar show; he was full tilt boogie and yet never less than the epitome of cool. He performed eight songs off 4:44 but never more than two at a time, so it didn’t become a full scale pee break. Most of it wasn’t that great, but “OJ” was and “Bam” was and opening with “Kill Jay-Z” gave him the new beginning he’d throw back at us half an hour later. his “16 year old boy killed by the cops” plus “it’s a human issue” is about as well presented as his “Love trumps hate” cliché was around a year before when I first read it in an opinion column.
I’d seen plenty of film of Jay-Z performing in 2017 and have been singularly unwatchable. I cringed all the way through his Tidal X performance a coupla months ago. I can’t stomach his sincerity, it bums me out to the nth degree and when he starts in on “Family Feud” and “4:44” all I can do is cringe, last night they were the weakest spots in an overall strong set. Not a great set. Not his 2003 Fade To Black show at MSG, or best Of Both Worlds tour in 2003. But it was better than the Justin Timberlake one and better than the Beyonce one. I’d put it on a par with Watch The Throne. Speaking of which, he performed two songs from his West collaboration (he called West “A genius young man” -no argument from me) , told the story of how he came to write “N—s- In Paris” with him and even had film of a beaming Kanye on the screen three times. So I guess there is some sort of rekindling of their bromance. Speaking of which, he tributed Biggie Smalls with “Juicy” and got the whole of Barclays to sing it for him.
If the 4:44 songs were tighter without being better, everything else was better as such. “On To The Next One” –one of his great bangers, was crazy with its revised “somebody bring me back some music please” punchline. “I’m not fucking around, tonight” Jay Z claimed in the middle of an outstanding series of hardcore rap track bangers: “Jigga My Nigga,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “On To The Next One ,” “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” “Public Service Announcement,” “Family Feud,” “U Don’t Know,” “99 Problems,” and “Big Pimpin’”. Any pop star at any point of their career would be overjoyed to be able to reel off such an astounding run of sky high energy, arena rocking, singalong at the top of your voice anthems. This is what Jay-Z does that nobody else can touch. Kanye is a better arranger and artist, Kendrick a better rapper, Joey Bada$$ more politically astute, Migos is hipper BUT NOBODY has a string of showstoppers that great. Jay-Z doesn’t even sweat it, he just lines up and knocks em out of the Arena.
The 32 song set was a pleasure, he overdid 4:44 but he knows how to program a setlist and he did it well, the live band gave him a real backbone and if his woke stuff bores me to death, there wasn’t so much that it was a distraction and he’s right any way. A terrific show from dat Brooklyn boy.