There are few artists, bar any genre, who can command a stage and engage a crowd like Jay Z. At this point in his career, based on performances like last night, and the breadth of his dozen studio albums, it’s clear that he ranks right up there with the greats like Bruce Springsteen and U2.
Last night at the Wells Fargo Center, undistracted by fancy stage sets or costume changes, Jay relied on the his strengths to captivate the near-capacity crowd. Standing center stage, Jay delivered a handful of songs from Magna Carta Holy Grail, and more than a handful of classics. The man’s got a deep catalogue and hit on classics like “99 Problems,” “Dead Presidents,” “Big Pimpin,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” and “U Don’t Know.”
One of Jay Z’s smartest career moves was to learn how to play his music with a band (see the MTV Unplugged from 2001 that he recorded with The Roots). The four piece that backed him last night included producer and DJ Timbaland on keyboards and programming, drummer Tony Royster Jr., and Philadelphians Omar Edwards on keyboards and guitarist/bassist Clay Sears. They were stellar, efficient and rocking through out the entire show and really brought to life the new material they played from Magna Carta Holy Grail. Jay turned “Holy Grail” into a massive stadium sing along. They dug deep into the grooves on “Somewhere In America,” “Tom Ford,” and “Picasso Baby.” Their playing on “Oceans,” the song that features Frank Ocean, lifted the song to an emotionally intensity.
Midway through the show, Jay left the stage, allowing Timbaland to perform a short DJ set that featured a medley of hits that he produced for other musicians and was followed by one of the highlights of the show – a cameo appearance from Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill. Meek performed “Ima Boss” and completely brought the house to an emotional high. His explosive energy lifted the show into high gear and left the stage to voluminous applause.
Jay took over from there, running through material from some of his collaborations including the hip-hop classics “Clique,” (from the G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer album) and “Ni**as in Paris,” (from his collaboration with Kanye West, Watch The Throne). Just a couple of minutes after the lights went down, Jay came out and encored with some of his most popular songs: “Encore,” “PSA,” “Empire State of Mind” – during which he kept yelling “Philly!” “Philly!” – “Izzo (H.O.V.A), “Public Service Announcement,” and he ended with “Young Forever,” which he dedicated to Nelson Mandela.
For two and a half hours, Jay more than lived up to his boast of “I’m the new Sinatra.”
Photo by John Vettese