To Watch The Throne Friday night at its debut at Philips Arena in Atlanta, was to watch hip-hop be so many other genres, well.
It was first and foremost pop music, not just because The Throne – as [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Jay- Z[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Kanye West[/lastfm] have deemed themselves – is composed of an artist (Jay-Z) who has more No. 1 albums (11) than one of the most highly-regarded performers in popular music – period ([lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Elvis Presley[/lastfm]). But their way with a hook (“Empire State Of Mind,” Jesus Walks”) illustrates an equal – if not better – pop sensibility than any [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Britney Spears[/lastfm] chart-topper.
It was arena rock – not just because of the nearly-filled venue it was performed in – but how that performance was presented: Near-flawless musical production throughout. A stand-alone laser show pulsing in accompaniment with West’s “Love Lockdown” and of course, his “All Of The Lights.” And a stage show where the actual, entire stage seemed to rise towards the rafters – with sharks and dogs menacing underneath.
It was soul, and soulful – not just because they let the Otis Redding’s 1966 version of “Try A Little Tenderness” play before seguing into their hit that samples it (“Otis”), but because in an arena-sized spaces it is even more evident how rhythmic and blues-inspired the horn section in “Touch The Sky,” the slick, Quincy Jones-like sway of “Good Life,” and the spell-casting vocals that open “Gotta Have It,” are.
It even exhibited some of the social and political thoughtfulness often ascribed to folk, moving compellingly from a video of hurts (Hurricane Katrina) and hate (a child in a Klu Klux Klan ensemble) in this country (with “What A Wonderful World” playing) to “No Church In The Wild” from the the duo’s current album; also titled “Watch The Throne.”
But again, it was opening night of Watch The Throne tour, and with that were some opening glitches. At 8:21 a booming voice announced: “Ten minutes to The Throne!” Then at 8:58 that same voice: “Two minutes to The Throne! [Pause] Ten minutes…”
And the boos started.
Then when they started (actually at 9 p.m.) with “HAM,” Jay-Z was obviously having earpiece issues, stopping the music by the second song and finishing “Who Gon Stop Me” a capella.
And while it was certainly engaging to have the superstars do a kind of on-stage tag-team where they would do a few of their individual hits and trade places, apparently at one point West missed his cue, sheepishly returning a little late as he he told the audience he forgot there was a set change the night before.
“ATL we appreciate your patience,” Jay-Z said.
And as the crowd lept to its feet as the concert wound down – the infectious opening bleeps of “[Expletive] In Paris” playing (which they did twice) – it was apparently appreciative to be the first to watch, and experience, all that The Throne was musically.
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