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Jay-Z & Kanye West: Watch The Throne Tour

Venue: 02 Arena, London

Date: 22nd May 2012

By Andrew Kay | 23 May 2012

No matter what an artist may say, they all want the adulation, money and sheer atmosphere that comes from a sell-out show of 20,000- an arena sized concert. Jay-Z and Kanye West managed to sell-out t London's O2 arena, not once, but five times in a row! Tonight was the last night of the Watch The Throne tour, referencing their latest work; a hotpotch of rap-pop, experimental beats and faux Dirty South rap musical arrangements.

 With no support act or a DJ-for-hire, the concert started in dramatic fashion with a classical music  riff filling the air before the stage came alive with Kanye strutting his stuff in a black leather shirt and jeans combination complete with gold chain. The audience heard the distinct voice of 'Jigga' Jay-Z, but most of their collective jaws dropped when he came from the middle of the arena on a raised platform -dressed in black t-shirt, jeans and Brooklyn Mets cap. The platform shone with lasers, lights and film of dogs and sharks projected onto the cube.

They both bursted into 'H.A.M', and the collective hands of the crowd formed the Roc Diamond logo. Kanye Took the opening reigns while Jay, we assume ran to the main stage through a series of secret exits, both ending up in a unison of songs from 'Watch The Throne' recreated from the album, but which felt a bit flat played to such a large crowd.

The atmosphere countenanced the music beautifully, so it didn't matter much that the music needed geeing up. A U.S flag was draped over the stage before a burst of 'Welcome to The Jungle'. Jay and Kanye engaged in a bit of banter and audience-engaging flattery. The 60s soulful first single 'Otis' hit the right notes with Jay and Kanye creating chemistry to produce rap alchemy, warming up the faithful, who hung on the familiar sample, probably remembering when it was flavour of the moment in clubs a couple of years' back.

It was only when 'Otis' ended that proceedings kicked up several notches when Jay riffed over a dull 'Watch The Throne' filler track to punch through with 'Where I'm From' from 'In My lifetime Vol 1', Jay's second album. The menacing Yvonne Fair sample, from this peripheral of one-time Motown artists, and her two second sample from 'Let Your Hair Down', that's let Yvonne, Jay and Fat Joe eat at some point in their fledgling careers came through like a raging bull. The audience went bananas.

The light and laser show afforded Jay to be silhouetted with the light at judicious angles offering a teasing glimpse of Jay, leaving him with an air of mystery but the stagey staging just added to the overall effect. A few more Jay-Z tracks ('Nigga What, Nigga Who')  before the baton was passed for Kanye to do a solo meadly of 'Power', 'Jesus Walks' and 'Diamonds.'

Collectively, Jay-Z's 'P.S.A' worked, but was nearly spoilt by Kanye becoming so serious and he didn't seem like he was having much fun; it's always been Kanye's problem: he's always taken himself far too seriously. People forget that his best work were the beats Jay bought off him for 'Blueprint', as a calling card for the industry.

'We Run This Town' and 'Monster' were muzak of the dullest order; showing up 'Watch the Throne'  for the mess it is. Still, the laser light show worked along with pyrotechnics that gave the stage a hot enduring embrace of the proverbial and literal heat cooked up in the kitchen.

The baroque and dramatic tone thus far slowed down for Jay and Kanye to do 'New Day,' by far the best song off  the 'Throne' album,  about absent fathers and the damage they cause,  which was given refreshing poignancy as a glance at the huge screens showed Jay's eyes welling up as he cooed "me and the Rza connect" in slow, mannered tones, like a prayer for a dead friend. Both of them sat down on the stage and the crowed swayed from side to side in respectful and unified deep-thought.

There were a couple of narrative strands to the evening's show and absent fathers went into the orphan anthem from 'Annie', 'Hard Knock life.' Jay's segment ended with 'Izzo', opening again in the middle of the arena with Kanye, this time in a costume change, wearing a full length coat and utilising the entire raised platform with his trademark dancing as 'Runaway' burst through the speakers. This was the most boring part of the concert; even the laser and light combination couldn't muster much energy for this moment, made worst with Kanye's pompous and histrionic facial expressions and repeating lyrics from 'Heartless' for emphasis, trying to underline their significance. The audience sat down, welcoming the break, but yawning and being restless interchangeably.

Suddenly, the light show turned teutonic blue. The screens showed an aggressive and pensive Kanye still on the raised stage, pausing, waiting for his moment. Kanye looked like a Terracotta soldier in battle, and the Daft Punk-sampled 'Stronger' set off his animated and slickly rehearsed version of this unashamedly ambitious of Kayne tracks. It was his finest moment of the night.

Back to Jay-Z, back on the main stage, this time equally raised with Kanye's but with Jay again in silhouette with the platform's cube design aping the green background IPod adverts, with Jay in a hoody rapping 'Dirt off my Shoulder' and 'I Just Wanna Love U.'

The 'Apache'-sampled 'That's My Bitch' ambled into the P.Y.T sampling 'Good Life', reflecting the first signs of Summer London has experienced after 6 months of apocalyptic style rain and cold.

'Big Pimpin'' got the crowd back into dance mode, beginning the second narrative strand. Pimps traversely have female versions called 'Gold diggers' and Jay had empathy if little sympathy as he told his bemoaning colleague: "I got 99 problems... But a bitch ain't one." But the 'big pimp' had other issues, namely with "rap critics" and "police 'that need to legally search my shit."

The big screens showed a montage of last year's UK riots, a man begging for change as a result of the recession, and two generations of Klu Klux Klan members, including the disturbing close-up of a child wearing the pointy white hood, all the while Louis Armstrong's 'What A Wonderful World' was used as an ironic counterpoint to the visuals. The twosome crashed and smashed into 'No Church In The Wild'- riot footage played on the screens and fire pyrotechnic bolts spat out intermittently.

'We Run This Town' wrapped up the pop-rap extravaganza, but not before the Dirty South inspired 'Niggas in Paris' with the hook "This shit cr-aye." Trouble was, this was played five times in a row. The song that kept  on singing; the track that kept a crowd jumping; the encore that kept repeating!

At concert's end, the audience rambled out having seen two of mainstream rap's supremos at the top of their individual games. Kanye was more ambitious and experimental but the entertainment level was hampered with his seriousness and lack of the playful. Jay-Z was the showman's showman: unfussy, funny, laconic, engaging and at ease with himself.

The sweat poured from both men; both gave it their all. But Kanye's progressive music got lost in Brooklyn's finest and his enduring swagger. He makes it look all too easy.

Forgetting the bigger picture of where Jay-Z is in terms of the establishment, his hobnobbing with Obama etc, he has an instinctive understanding of how to rock a crowd, have them in the palm of his hand and deliver the goods.

 

 

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