Live Review: Jay-Z & Mary J. Blige - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine
Mon, 21 Apr 2008 07:19:15
"The girl working the other beer line is way hotter. Let's get in that one," exclaimed an Abercrombie-clad attendee of the Irvine stop of the "Heart of the City" tour: Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige's juggernaut spring jaunt. That's typical behavior for Orange County dudes. Watch any lame TV show about The OC for proof. Nevertheless, that remark's a sign of the summer concert series beginning. The one-two combo of phenomenal performances from the reigning queen of soul and rap's king kicked off the season with a bang. It was still a bit chilly for an outdoor show, but that didn't stop the throng of hip hop fans from throwing down.
From the aromas of Corona and churros, the quad at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre emanated summer. 20 feet away from the beer line stood a jewelry stand run by an attractive, brunette vendress with entrancing eyes. "This necklace would look better on you—the one with the dragon," she said to a patron, while closing down yet another sale. Bling is highly encouraged, if not required for entrance, at a hip hop show of this caliber. When Jay-Z would later tell the crowd, "Put your diamonds in the sky," that would become truly apparent.
With a stunning show, Jay-Z did not disappoint. In fact, he's gone from being the best MC in the game to rap's Frank Sinatra. Keeping up with his newly minted American Gangster-persona, Shawn Carter has taken ghetto suave to heights that would make Old Blue Eyes smile. That included utilizing a full band to recreate the music for all of his classic records, from Reasonable Doubt to American Gangster. The band made Jay-Z's hits sound organic, epic and classy, eschewing the standard scratching of a DJ. Hitting the stage as scenes from Reservoir Dogs played on a screen behind him, Jay-Z’s first words resounded like a gunshot. "Everybody say hello to the bad guy. I've come from the bottom, now I'm mad fly." No one ever said Jay-Z doesn't spout the truth.
That underdog ethos made him rap's foremost hustler, and that was the theme of the night. He launched into "Roc Boys" first, and the barrage of hits never stopped. He graced the stage with the physical finesse of a prize fighter and the lyrical prowess of a poet. New tracks like "No Hook" hit just as hard as crowd pleasers like "I Just Want to Love You (Give it To Me)" and "Can I Get A…"
"Pray" was specifically powerful, with flames in the background, and Jay-Z furiously spitting like his life depended on it. "99 Problems" provoked the biggest sing-a-long, as Jay-Z commanded the stage. Meanwhile, "IZZO (H.O.V.A.)" brought everyone back to Mr. Carter's most fiery days, and it got the whole lawn moving—including one roving soda vendor, who felt the need to groove while slinging Sprite. "Dirt Off Your Shoulders" kept the audience fiending for more, and Jay-Z joked, "We ain't done yet! I've got a million of these!"
At one point, a picture of Barack Obama flashed on the screen behind Jay-Z. He asked, "Ya'll ready for a change, right?" The crowd erupted. His subtle political endorsement was tasteful, and it didn't stop the flow of the show. Brooklyn's hip hop Sinatra undoubtedly deserves every bit of his success, and he proves he's still hot on stage. "Big Pimpin'" and "Encore" sounded huge and still possessed that groundbreaking flare. A closing duet with Mary J. Blige on "Heart of the City" also served as a fitting end to the perfect hip hop show. Mary J. Blige's opening set was equally amazing. "Real Love" has never sounded better, and she also kept the hits coming.
From overseeing the business to running the game, Jay-Z remains hip hop's most vibrant heavyweight. After a hell of a show, he even made it to Las Vegas in time to sit ringside at the Bernard Hopkins-Joe Calzaghe fight the next day. No doubt, Frank would've been there too if he could be.