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Oldies But Goldies: Jay Z Opens Barclay Center, September 2012


(Back three years to opening night at the Barclay Center and the vibe around Jay Z’s performance is mammoth. I wish I was writing back in the “Fade To Black” reunion days… mow that was a concert. This one? It didn’t live up to the hype but what does, right? 2012, Hov was still a minority stock holder and Barclay Center was opening…)

In the 1980s, Columbus Circle was a mess and the place where Time Warner is now? A shantytown where strong men were known to faint at the stench. Blame Mort Zuckerman, who held the rights but failed to build on the property. And then was kicked back his deposit by the Port Authority. Construction began in 2000 and in October 2003 the Time Warner Center was open.

Around the same date as the opening of the Time Warner Center, Jay-Z was meeting with Cleveland Real Estate developer Bruce Ratner. At the Inaugural performance in the home to the New York Nets Barclay Center, minority owner Jay-Z, in a consistently inarticulate performance, points leftwards and mentions that the area where he used to sling crack rock was just outside the window. Marcy House, the projects Jay-Z was raised in, was six miles away. At the 19,000 seat project the import isn’t lost on Jay-Z. “Brooklyn,” he says, “thank you for making me the man I am.” Whoever that is.

There is a sense of moment about the evening. The outside of the arena is gorgeous and teeming with people, it didn’t take long for the scalpers to show and it didn’t take long for the police to show either. The scene is a mix of the heeled and the hustlers, flygirls in their finest and wannabes without a dime to their name, and walking by some gangers I heard one more than a little disturbed about how secure the area was. It sure felt buttoned down.

To get inside Barclay Center you have to walk through security gates, a first of its kind and a true time waster time waster, I felt like an Iraqi on an El Al flight. The line drifts and merges forever and took a good half hour. And once you get in it is obvious there is two BCs, one for the great unwashed and one for the one percenters. If you are among the great majority, BC is fine but nothing new. State of the art but any innovations are for the rich and the famous. Prices are industry standards. Unlike the money they will pay musical acts. BC is overpaying and the result is obvious. Swedish House Mafia are playing 3 nights at BC, 1 night at MSG. This is the first of an 8 night stand for Jay-Z, who is overjoyed at all the wealth flowing in and is like the MC at his own Man Of The Year award.

The arena itself is fabulous. A plush real leather atmosphere, all, black on gray, very male, very Batman’s cave. I had nosebleeds and the seats were comfortable and relatively upscale. No legroom but that goes with the cost per foot. The sound was immaculate. Best I’ve heard. You’d expect that, much like MSG, the sound would get bassy and muffled and echoed and it absolutely didn’t . Possibly the best and most exciting thing about the entire enterprise is the sound and I can’t wait to see Barbra Streisand there in a couple of week.

Hut 97s Mister C began the evening with a medley of “greatest rapper of all time Biggie Small”, another denizen of Bedford Stuyvesant, and as long as he kept to Biggie he was fine. Mister C made the case that Brooklyn (as opposed to the Bronx) rap went Big Daddy Kane to Biggie to Hova. Big Daddy is the only guest this evening, he raps “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” during the encore. And Biggie. Biggie is never far from our thoughts.

However, Mister Cee spun for longer than Jay-Z rapped and his constant “we’re making history here” and “Brooklyn, this is our house” was overkill. We haven’t landed on the moon and Brooklyn sounded like code for black, sitting amongst the most multi- cultural audience I’ve seen since the last Stevie Wonder performance, the situation made a lie of the concept.

Jay-Z got it closer, “We Are all from Brooklyn tonight”, he claimed.

Jay-Z was very good on opening night, sometimes a little better. The occasion effected the song selection and absolutely. After a history of Brooklyn shone right across the stage, Jay-Z entered to “Where I’m From” and “Brooklyn We Go Hard” -hardly household names (the latter is off the “Notorious” soundtrack) , before botching a singalong to a video of Biggie.

Brooklyn is, of course the point of the set. Why start like that if it isn’t? There is also a selection from Reasonable Doubt later in the evening, in case you had any doubt. Which is good, it shaked up his setlist. And the moment isn’t lost on Jigga, he calls it the most important concert of his life. It looks, fabulous, fabulous: Jigga is alone, roaming the stage from one end to the other, while images are projected against him and against, a large hard funk band, barely visible. Jay-Z introduces them as “The Roc Boys” and they were a terrific hard as fuck plus sample band. The audience were enthralled and loud and consistent in their appreciation.

You can tell there is a But coming, right? BUT, it was never great. The FILM I saw of Jay-Z performing “99 Problems” with Pearl jam was better than anything I heard last night. Despite a mid-section blast from “”99 Problems” to “Big Pimpin'” the set was too deep, too fanboy oriented. I enjoyed it, when I am not hatin’ on Hova, I am his fanboy. But he never got up to speed. The performance stalled, while Jay-Z helped back tears of joy over owning a piece of Barclay Center. He never figured that a 20 something breaking out bragging is buster and a 40 something billionaire doing the same thing is a braggart.

Look: the moment of playing the first night in your own Arena a brick throw away from where you spent your youth hustling, is not wasted on me. But, while I feel good for you, son, I don’t share in it. I am not getting a cut, indeed, i am sure my taxes paid for a truckload of it. And while a different man could’ve made me care, Jigga is incapable of sharing the glory even when it serves his own needs. After requesting, and needless to add not getting, 10 seconds of silence for Biggie, he responds to one person by saying “I got you, that’s what I do”. But it is nothing of the sort. He doesn’t know how to present himself: “Eight shows when you own the place…” he starts. “Nah, fuck that…”

“Can I have a minute, I’m a little overwhelmed with this shit…. Nothing feels like it feels tonight…”

I believe Jay-Z was moved by the occasion, I just don’t believe I have any reason to be. He runs off his hits, he digs deep into his well of Brooklyn songs, his rapping is excellent and he doesn’t really mess around. Only Big Daddy Kane is a guest star, only Biggie and Bruce Ratner (“In 2003…”) get shout outs. Just a very solid, very consistent rap attack.

75 minutes later and we are already at encore time. A not bad selection. “Clique” to show he’s still relevant, “Money Ain’t A Thing, “Cash, Money Hoes” (I am including a setlist I took off And finally “Young Forever” and that’s it. A slick, sleek, streamlined set isn’t a bad idea, and if he had perform 180 instead of 90, I would have been unhappy. Still, there was a sense of a lot of blow hard bullshit and not enough rapping. It certainly wasn’t the best set he has ever performed. It wasn’t even the best set I’ve ever heard him perform.

When Jay-Z wants to pretend he is a leader of anything, let alone Brooklyn, he can’t hide from the fact that he can’t lead anything anywhere, because his music has only one subject matter and, frankly, it is getting to be a drag.

Grade: B+

Set List:
“Where I’m From”
“Brooklyn Go Hard”
“Kick in the Door”/”Juicy” (Biggie tribute)
“U Don’t Know”
“99 Problems”
“Run This Town”
“New York State of Mind”
“On to the Next One”
“Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
“I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)”
“Big Pimpin'”
“Murda Murda”
“Dead Presidents”
“Can I Live?”
“Public Service Announcement”
“Jigga My Nigga”
“Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”
“Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator ’99)”
“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”
“Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”

“What More Can I Say?”
“Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)”
Big Daddy Kane – “Ain’t No Half Steppin'”
Big Daddy Kane – “Set It Off”
Big Daddy Kane – “Warm it Up Kane”
“3 Kings”
“Money Ain’t a Thing”
“Money, Cash, Hoes”
“Young Forever”

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