Monday, Dec. 31, 2007

Lil Wayne @ The V100.7 Holiday Jam

By Evan Rytlewski
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The V100.7 Holiday Jam was probably the cruelest concert I have ever attended.

It began promisingly enough: V100.7 DJ Reggie Smooth, the evening's emcee, announced that scheduled opener Soulja Boy wouldn't be performing, since the day's snow storm trapped him in Cleveland. This elicited more cheers than boosthe crowd had more interest in seeing headliner Lil Wayne than teen-rap lightweight Soulja Boy anyway. Best of all, Reggie announced a killer replacement act: Twista, the lightning-fast Chicago rapper with a stunning live show. Twista and Lil Wayne were in the city, we were assured.

But as the night progressed, it became increasingly clear that Twista wasn't going to appear either, and at times it seemed unlikely that Lil Wayne would. Reggie instead introduced a succession of openers from the Milwaukee/Chicago area, some decent, some awful, most nondescript. When one batch of unrefined, Southern-rap copycats finished, Reggie would usher in another. And another. He went on like this for hours, at times even apologizing to the once-patient crowd, which began booing loudly whenever he promised "just a few more" openers. At one point he suggested the audience pass the time by visiting the concession stand and getting a hot dog, and indeed, many did, leaving one unlucky opener to perform to a mass exodus.

The crowd was tired and cranky, and with good reason: They were being jerked around.  After nearly five hours of warm-up acts, Reggie finally heralded the arrival of the act everyone was waiting for... and brought out another no-name Chicago opener.

In the end, the crowd sat through well over 15 opening acts before Lil Wayne finally took the stage after 12:30. Twista never showed up (there was no explanation why) and the only national opener of note, Playaz Circle, performed for less than 12 minutes. All signs pointed to a similarly abbreviated set from Wayne.

But an amazing thing happened: Wayne came out and made up for the five and a half hours of abuse the crowd had just endured. He was every bit the showman his mix-tapes suggest, darting around the stage shirtless, manically spitting  his craggy rhymes, and then slowing way down for bizarre, stream-of-conscious a cappella raps without losing the crowd.

Wayne's pacing is unorthodox, but that's part of his appeal: He embraces all the conventions of popular, Southern rap, but also twists them, subverts them and sometimes outright parodies them. He has the ego of a hitmaker, but also a sense of humor about it ("Me, me, it's all about me!" he raps on his latest mix-tape after a series of increasingly silly boasts), and over the course several songs his scattered, pun-laden rhymes begin to paint an unusually self-aware portrait. Although he plays the role of the larger-than-life superstar, there's real humanity in how he addresses his improbable success, his quest for love and his unresolved father issues.

So thank you, Lil Wayne. Thank you for showing up, thank you for putting on a full, nearly 70 minute set, and thank you for putting your heart and soul into it. Thank you for going out on a limb and crooning like a soul man, and thank you for attempting to play guitar, even though you were pretty awful at it. Thank you for cracking up the crowd with your oddball rants, and thank you for treating us with the respect that the concert promoters didn't.

And to the promoters: Shame on you. Shame on you for subjecting the crowd to hours of torture, for lying about Twista, and for bludgeoning us with so many not-ready-for-prime-time openers.

Wayne did right by us, but the promoters took us for granted.

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