Watch The Throne: The Madison Square Garden Edition

Watch the Throne
Jay-Z & Kanye West
Madison Square Garden, NYC
November 8, 2011

The stars were out in New York City at Tuesday Night’s “Watch The Throne” concert at the world famous Madison Square Garden. As I took my seat in Section 107, Row 8, I could see the likes of Beyonce, Neo, Serena Williams, Fat Joe, and more. In fact, Alexandria Ambrosio and three other Victoria’s Secrets models sat down in the seats right next to me! About five minutes before the lights went out, Carmelo Anthony walked onto the floor and got a New York City home crowd standing ovation accompanied with chants of “Melo”. For all of the big names in the Garden that night, no one shined more than the true stars of the show.

The lights went dark at about 9:30 p.m. and it was on.  Kanye appeared on a platform on the right of the arena and Jay-Z came out a few seconds later on a platform to the left.  They were facing each other as they ripped into the egotistical “H.A.M.”, a bonus track off of the “Watch The Throne” album.  Jay-Z was immediately in showman form as he kept yelling to the crowd “What’s Up?”.  After the initial song, the platforms rose into cubes thirty feet off of the ground and transformed into giant shark tanks as they rapped “Who Gon Stop Me”. 

This was one of the highlights of the show and the shark stages are getting a lot of buzz in the world of twitter and facebook.  It really was a sight to behold.  The back and forth interaction across the arena between “Hova” and “Ye” while standing atop these giant cubes was memorable and the two rappers seemed larger than life. 

The cubes descended back into the floor and the two superstars vanished for a few minutes as they made their way to the main stage.  For the next two and half hours the fans were treated to a sing along catalog of Jay-Z’s solo hits, Kanye’s solo hits, the duo’s collaborations over the years, and of course a heavy dose of Throne songs.  The stage set up was unique and featured a plethera of pyrotechnics, giant images on the big screens of the two, as well as a laser light show that was breath-taking. 

As you know from my previous post on this blog, I attended the same concert two nights earlier in New Jersey.  While that show was incredible and had a distinct “wow” factor, this night was extra special.  I have never, in all of the 200 plus concerts I have attended, been part of a crowd that was so energetic. 

 The entire crowd danced, rapped, sang, jumped, swayed, and bounced along with Jay-Z and Kanye West.  And the two of them responded in due fashion.  Kanye was acting like a maniac running sprints, dancing wildly, and giving it his all.  Meanwhile, Jay-Z was as cool as ever, delivering his lyrics clearly and smoothly, and his interaction with the crowd was really what made MSG shake. 

“Empire State of Mind” and “Encore” never sounded so good to me.  It was like Jay-Z thought of those lyrics while standing on stage at the Garden.  He was smiling throughout the show and geniunely looked like he was having the time of his life.  I took a lot of time to just study his facial expressions as well as to look around the arena at all of the people going crazy.  There was a special, special feeling in the air that night and everyone was a part of it. 

Kanye’s wardrobe was as bizarre as ever.  He changed his clothes at least five times that night and made his way through a collection of  Bill Cosby-like sweaters.  All throughout he wore a leather skirt and leather tights.  But he gave extra that night into his performance and for once, I even saw him smile a few times.  He and his big brother clearly have a lot of admiration for each other and that was evident that night as their on stage interaction was flawless and real. 

The setlist was a bit different from the show I saw at the Izod Center as Kanye, to my delight, added in his first single “Through the Wire” and the two sang “Made in America”.  During the latter, they dedicated the song to Heavy D, who had died that same day.  They had everyone take out either a lighter or their cell phone and the entire arena became a spectacle of lights. 

A funny moment was after Jay-Z performed the smash hit, “Big Pimpin”, Kanye stated to the crowd “Jay-Z was my hero growing up and I always wanted to be like him. But every time I would try to live Big Pimpin, I couldn’t because ….” and the speakers broke right into the Jamie Foxx chorus of “Gold Digger”: “she take my money”. You can see the video below of this humorous scripted moment.

The encore was completely different from Sunday night’s show and was a true fan’s delight.  “***** In Paris” was played for the third time and, of course, they did “Encore”.  The whole crowd was chanting “Hova, Hova, Hova” and Jay made sure the crowd also gave love to Kanye.  Then Jay-Z went off script and asked a fan in the crowd what time it was and said “no really, what time is it?  Like the real time”.  He then said that they had fifteen minutes to run through some more hits.  The two broke into some old classics like “Guess Who’s Back”, “Dead Presidents”, “All Falls Down”, “Get Em High”, “Jigga My *****”, and more.  They just kept turning back to the DJ behind him and called out a song that seemed to come off the top of their head. 

Like I said, there was a special feeling in the air on that night.  The two music powerhouses combined at the World’s Greatest Arena to put on one of the best shows I have ever seen.  It was an amazing 50 song setlist, performed flawlessly and with great pride, swagger, and passion.  I have been absolutely blown away by the Watch The Throne Tour and this night was, perhaps, the best of them all. 

SETLIST:

  1. H.A.M.
  2. Who Gon Stop Me
  3. Otis
  4. Welcome To the Jungle
  5. Gotta Have It
  6. Where I’m From
  7. Jigga What, Jigga Who
  8. Can’t Tell Me Nothing
  9. Flashing Lights
  10. Jesus Walks
  11. Through the Wire
  12. Diamonds From Sierra Leone Remix
  13. Public Service Announcement
  14. U Don’t Know
  15. Run This Town
  16. Monster
  17. Power
  18. Made In America
  19. New Day
  20. Hard Knock Life
  21. H to the Izzo
  22. Empire State of Mind
  23. Runaway
  24. Heartless
  25. Stronger
  26. On To the Next One
  27. Dirt Off My Shoulder
  28. I Just Wanna Love You
  29. That’s My B****
  30. Good Life
  31. Touch The Sky
  32. All Of The Lights
  33. Big Pimpin’
  34. Gold Digger
  35. 99 Problems
  36. What A Wonderful World
  37. No Church in the Wild
  38. Lift Off
  39. ****** In Paris
  40. ****** In Paris
  41. ****** In Paris
  42. Encore
  43. Jigga My *****
  44. Blow Your Whistle
  45. All Falls Down
  46. Get Em High
  47. Lucifer
  48. Dead Presidents
  49. Guess Who’s Back
  50. Why I Love You

VIDEOS:

Big Pimpin’ into Gold Digger
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
Kanye’s Cube Rise

Made In America

Who Gon’ Stop Me

Watch The Throne Lives Up To the Hype In NJ

Watch The Throne
Jay-Z & Kanye West
Izod Center, East Rutherford, NJ
November 6, 2011

Wow.  I attended the Watch The Throne Tour stop in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday Night expecting to see a great concert.  Instead, what I witnessed was a magical moment where two performers took their music to heights where no Hip-Hop artist had every taken it.  The show literally made me say “wow” out loud multiple times. 

The show did not begin until approximately 9:15 p.m. and there was no opening act.  As the crowd sat in their seats with the lights on you saw a stage with raised platforms in an almost maze-like manner, with two other platforms shaped like squares, and at least six men on a hanging trapeze fixture with gigantic lights and cameras.  Yet, no one knew exactly what was going to come next.  As the lights went dim, the “Throne” instrumental music that is heard between each of the tracks on the actual Watch The Throne album could be heard.  And you could see Kanye West walk to the squared platform on the right and Jay-Z to the one on the left.  Surpringsly, the first song of the night was “H.A.M”, a bonus track on the new album.  No one seemed to mind as all of a sudden, the two squared platforms started to rise and within a minute the two superstars were on cubes thirty feet in the air trading verses filled with bravado and swagger.  

The astounding 40 song setlist was perfectly planned.  It was a constant and entertaining trade off between Jay-Z and Kanye.  They performed songs together and then separately, each with an even amount of stage time.  Jay-Z clearly got more love from the crowd, most likely because the show was so close to where he grew up.  That’s not to say Kanye did not get love because the crowd was cheering and dancing right along with him as well. 

The two stars traded verses on the raised cubes to “H.A.M.”, “Who Gon Stop Me”, and “Welcome To the Jungle”.  At one point the cubes pictured both pitbulls barking and then transformed into giant fish tanks with great white sharks swimming in them.  It was truly amazing to witness these effects.  Once they finished these three songs, the cubes came back down to their starting level and the lights went dark.  For the next three minutes, “Try A Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding played over the speakers and a huge American Flag was spread along the main stage.  The two came out and ripped into “Otis” and the crowd went wild.

What I really loved about the show was the interaction between the two.  They genuinely looked like they were having a great time.  They were smiling and even traded lyrics on each other’s singles.  For instance, Kanye sang the lyrics as the police officer in the second verse of “99 Problems” and Jay-Z helped Kanye out on “Gold Digger”. 

In fact, after Jay-Z did “Big Pimpin”, Kanye stated to the crowd “Jay-Z was my hero growing up and I always wanted to be like him. But every time I would try to live Big Pimpin, I couldn’t because ….” and the speakers broke right into the Jamie Foxx chorus of “Gold Digger”: “she take my money”. The two shared what looked like a lot of good laughs to their obviously rehearsed song set ups. 

Jay-Z was the most interactive with the crowd that I have ever seen him.  He strolled around the stage in his typical coolness and got the crowd to put their hands in the air and make the “Roc Diamond” in the sky multiple times throughout.  Kanye had a lot less interaction, but really showed a lot of emotion during his songs dancing like a maniac and giving it his all. 

All throughout the show, large amounts of pyrotechnics were used and the dual stages were utilized.  Kanye used the large platform on the left of the arena for a three song set highlighted by the effectious “Stronger”.  Most people seemed to take a bathroom break during the autotuned “Heartless”.  I could have done without that fairly lackluster tune. 

I really enjoyed their rendition of “Diamonds From Sierra Leon” and “Monster”, two songs from Kanye’s past solo albums.  The two have a natural showmanship and do things so differently, yet the combination at the same time is an amazing transformation.  Kanye is self absorbed rapper, dressed in a leather kilt; Jay-Z is the crowd pleaser dressed simply in his trademark Yankee hat, black shirt and jeans.  They are so different, but somehow when they blend their styles, sure genuis is the result. 

Another great moment was when the two slowed things down and sat next to each other on the stage.  They rapped to “New Day” and “Hard Knock Life” while sitting down as if they were just old friends sharing a moment.  It came across as genuine and really showcased the real love they have for each other.

Three of the last four songs played was their latest #1 on the Billboard Charts, “****** In Paris”.  When the clip of Will Ferrel from his movie “Blades of Glory” came on, the energy in the building amplified to a ridiculous level.  The two blasted into the song and the crowd responded by jumping up and down.  The entire building was shaking, it was truly a sight to behold.  They finished the song once and Jay-Z stated “**** it, let’s do again” and they went right back to it. 

The two left the stage for a brief minute and came back out for an encore.  They went right back to “Paris” and no one in the building seemed to mind.  They finished their masterpiece with Jay-Z’s “Encore” and the crowd was heard chanting “Hova, Hova Hova …” on repeat in honor of the superstar.  They finished up with Jay-Z thanking the crowd and walked off together into the dark. 

While most of the concert was absolutely brilliant, there were a few minor things that were a bit strange.  First, was Kanye’s choice of clothing.  At first he was wearing a t-shirt with his face on it, a leather kilt, leather tights, and basketball sneakers.  He then changed halfway through into an atrocious sweater, yet decided to keep the kilt on.  Also, there were images on the two giant HD screens that were confusing.  At one point there was a police chase where police cars were getting blown up and crashed into.  Then duing “No Church In the Wild”, there were images of the Klu Klux Klan – quite disturbing. 

But all in all, out of the 200 plus concerts that I have attending in my lifetime, this one ranks up there in the top few.  The stage design, the pyrotechnics, the setlist, and special effects all lived up to the hype that “Watch The Throne” has been receiving.  I cannot wait until I see their show at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night.  All I can say is wow. 

 SETLIST:

  1. H.A.M. 
  2. Who Gon Stop Me
  3. Otis
  4. Welcome To the Jungle
  5. Gotta Have It
  6. Where I’m From
  7. Jigga What, Jigga Who
  8. Can’t Tell Me Nothing
  9. Flashing Lights
  10. Jesus Walks
  11. Diamonds From Sierra Leone Remix
  12. Public Service Announcement
  13. U Don’t Know
  14. Run This Town
  15. Monster
  16. Power
  17. New Day
  18. Hard Knock Life
  19. H to the Izzo
  20. Empire State of Mind
  21. Runaway
  22. Heartless
  23. Stronger
  24. On To the Next One
  25. Dirt Off My Shoulder
  26. I Just Wanna Love You
  27. That’s My B****
  28. Good Life
  29. Touch The Sky
  30. All Of The Lights
  31. Big Pimpin’
  32. Gold Digger
  33. 99 Problems
  34. What A Wonderful World
  35. No Church in the Wild
  36. Lift Off
  37. ****** In Paris
  38. ****** In Paris
  39. ****** In Paris
  40. Encore

VIDEOS:

H.A.M.

Who Gon Stop Me

****** In Paris
Stronger
U Don’t Know
On To The Next One
Jigga What, Jigga Who
Diamonds Remix
99 Problems
H To the Izzo
Empire State of Mind
Outro

Toby Keith Ends the 2011 CT Country Summer Concert Season with a Bang

Toby Keith
Locked & Loaded Tour
Featuring Eric Church and JT Hodges
Comcast Theater, Hartford, CT
September 16, 2011

Summer was clearly over on this cold mid-September night when the “Locked & Loaded Tour” rolled into Hartford, Connecticut.  This night would be the final night of the summer’s country music concerts series at the Comcast Theater (formerly known as the Meadows) and was arguably the best.  Despite the unusually cold temperature, the sold out crowd and jam packed lawn section was alive and rocking. 

I was fortunate, again, to score a meet and greet pass with Eric Church.  Eric has quickly shot up the list of my favorite singers and it has been a real pleasure to meet him twice in the past few weeks.  Despite all his energy and moxy on stage, he is a very humble and evel keel guy.  We spoke for a moment about the Tour and his upcoming single (which he hinted would be “Springsteen”).  I look for great things from Eric in the future.

I was able to take my seat, 5th row center stage, in time to catch JT Hodges.  JT had recently signed to Toby Keith’s record label and has served as the opening act along the Locked & Loaded Tour.  I did not know what to expect from him since I really only knew his single “Hunt You Down” but he showed a lot of potential.  He was at best when he was at the forefront of the stage with a microphone and interacting with the crowd rather than set back behind the microphone stand with his band.  Overall, he had a good sound and has some solid lyrics.  I look forward to his first cd release.  I was also able to meet him after his set and he was easily one of the nicest artists I have met to date. 

Eric Church came on stage with his patented avaitor sunglases and Von Dutch denim Trucker Hat.  He ripped into “Before She Does” and pumped his fist, pounded his chest, and shouted to the crowd for the next hour.  As I stated in my review two weeks ago, Eric has an unique performance style that combines swagger and bravado with a party style bad boy image. 

He changed his setlist up a bit and added a new fan favorite “Jack Daniels”, which a video clip is included down below.  The song is a humorous take on the morning after a night out drinking whiskey. 

Eric was energetic throughout, and really seemed to love when he was singing the new songs of his recent #1 album “Cheif”.  He actually stated to the crowd at one point, “thanks to you guys I had the #1 album in the world for two weeks. So Jay-Z and Kanye can kiss my rift!”  This comment is evident of who Eric Church is, an artist who does not care about taking on the music industry in the way he wants to. 

Eric was at his best on songs such as “Lotta Boot”, “Springsteen”, “Love Your Love the Most”, and “Gettin’ Stoned”, all of which sound nothing alike.  That is the beauty of Eric’s music, he never makes a similar song, but they are all country to the core – in his own gritty way.  Which is why Hank Williams Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” fit so well into his set.  Eric is doing country music his own way and is surviving very well. 

He ended his set with the booming “Smoke A Little Smoke” and had the entire amplitheatre on his feet as the sprays of smoke dominated the stage behind Eric and his band.  I fully expect this man to be headlining his own tours very soon – it is just a matter of time.

For as much as Eric is on the rise and put forth a great performance, you could tell the majority of the crowd in Hartford that night came to see the headliner.  And just after 9:30 p.m., the lights went low and the big screen produced a short comedic sketch which pushed Ford Trucks, the sponsor for Toby’s tour.  Upon the end of the sketch, the first of a multitude of pyrotechnic M-80 blasts exploded and Toby walked to the front of the stage.  Dressed in his usual cowboy hat and a strange short sleeve aqua blue “Hawaiian” style button down shirt, Toby exploded into “Bullets in the Gun”. 

Toby was in playful mood that night as he was full of smiles, jokes, and lyric change-ups to make some of his songs more humorous.  On tracks such as “Just Talking About Tonight” and “I Love This Bar”, his lyrics were changed to lyrics of more jokingly suggestive sexual nature which the ladies in the crowd obviously enjoyed. 

Toby’s latest top 5 “Made in America” and a rarely sung single from the beginning of his career “Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine On You” were two of the highlights of this show.  Both songs were sung with deep passion, one for the Country he loves and one about a woman.  The notes Toby is able to hit on both songs are so far ranging that I would be surprised if any other singer in country music could hit them, besides maybe Ronnie Dunn.  It was really spectacular. 

However, the true highlight of the night for me was when Toby brought out fellow songwriter Scotty Emerick.  Toby and Scotty have been long time friends and have penned powerhouse singles together such as “Beer For My Horses” and “I Love This Bar”. 

On this night, Toby and Scotty went the way of the humorous “bus songs” they wrote together and had the crowd clapping along and laughing to two acoustic versions of “Weed With Willie” and “The Taliban Song”.  Both songs are hilarious takes on topics some might find “un-PC”, but for anyone who can take on a joke can really get a laugh out of.   I have always enjoyed Scotty Emerick’s writing and even some of his own recorded music, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him out there in the spotlight with the Big Dog.

Toby had to rush through the last couple songs of his set, probably since it was getting very late and there is an ordinance in Hartford.  There is usually a few minute period where the lights go dark and the convential encore happens.  Instead, he went right into “American Soldier” after singing “A Little Less Talk”.  I enjoy the darkness period where the crowd chants “USA” before this patriotic encore better, but Toby made it work nonetheless. 

Toby brought up a number of our Country’s military men and had them at the fore-front shaking hands with fans and standing alongside him in a proud and exhalted manner. As he sang “American Soldier” and the thunderous “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” alongside these soldiers, Toby reminded Connecticut that you should “never apologize for being patriotic”. 

The entire “Locked & Loaded Tour” show that night was phenomenal and truly showed that Toby Keith is still at the forefront of country music’s finest artists and performers, that Eric Church is on his way up to the top, and JT Hodges has real potential.  Sadly, the Connecticut Country Concert Season was over, but it ended at its highest point of the Summer. 

VIDEOS:

Toby Keith – Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine On You

Toby Keith with Scotty Emerick – The Taliban Song
Eric Church – Jack Daniels

Toby Keith – Should’ve Been A Cowboy

Toby Keith w/ Scotty Emerick – Weed With Willie 

SETLISTS:
Eric Church
1) Before She Does
2) How Bout You

3) Hell On The Heart
4) Drink In My Hand
5) Guys Like Me
6) Springsteen
7) Getting Stoned
8) Jack Daniels

9) Love Your Love The Most

10) Lotta Boot
11) Creepin
12) Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Williams Jr. Cover)

13) Homeboy

14) Smoke A Little Smoke

Toby Keith
1) Bullets in the Gun
2) American Ride
3) Just Talkin’ About Tonight
4) Made In America
5) Whiskey Girl
6) Lady Marmalade (sung by Mica Roberts)
7) I Wanna Walk About Me
8) Get Drunk and Be Somebody
9) Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine On You
10) Who’s Your Daddy
11) As Good As I Once Was
12) I Love This Bar
13) Should’ve Been a Cowboy
14) Get Out of My Car
15) Weed With Willie (with Scotty Emerick)
16) The Taliban Song (with Scotty Emerick)
17) Beer For My Horses
18) How Do You Like Me Now
19) A Little Less Talk, A Lot More Action
20) American Soldier
21) Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue