Jay Z Proves to Be One of Pop Music's Most Gracious Performers at Minimal Dallas Show
Timothy Norris for LA Weekly: Slideshow
Even before the stage lights came on at American Airlines Center on Saturday night, the stage set-up was noticeably sparse, with minimalist scaffolding that looked downright reserved compared to other arena acts such as Kanye West's elaborate, Las Vegas-style Yeezus mountain.
The audience immediately stood as Shawn Corey Carter walked out onto the stage for the Dallas stop on the Magna Carter World Tour. There wasn't an opening act for Carter, who for 20 years has performed under the stage name Jay Z. Instead, before the show, the crowd bounced along as a DJ played tracks ranging from N.W.A.'s Boyz-n-the-Hood" to Migos' "Versace."
When Carter finally took the stage for his nearly two-hour set, he was dressed in all black from his sneakers to a black leather Brooklyn Nets ball cap. Well, all black except for a few thick gold chains around his neck and the white cross on the back of his T-shirt.
Earlier this month, the 44-year-old rapper's latest full-length effort was nominated for nine Grammy Awards - more than anyone else this year. And starting with "F.U.T.W." (Fuck Up the world) and all the way through his set to "Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit," it was clear in Dallas that Jay Z still has "it."
Jay Z is a fascinating performer to watch. He raps with confidence and conviction. He possesses a power, a flow and a raw stage presence that few performers can claim. He doesn't rely on an elaborate Broadway-like stage production complete with costume changes, backup dancers or actors, pyrotechnics, lasers and smoke machines. Only two video screens flanked the stage.
And, as Jay Z paced the stage, belting out the lyrics to some of the greatest, Grammy-winning chart-toppers in the history of hip-hop, images on the big screens flashed from live shots of the stage and the audience to taped shots of surveillance cameras, drone warfare footage and redacted government documents.
Jay's delivery of "99 Problems" sounded as potent as it did when it was released nearly a decade ago on. Sure, it helped that he was backed by the legendary producer and chart-topping songwriter Timbaland as well as the amazing Tony Royster on drums - one of Royster's furious solos ended with him literally pounding the drums and cymbals with his fists.
The evening's set list played out like a greatest hits collection, reaching as far back as "Dead Presidents II" and "Can I Live" from 1996's Reasonable Doubt. There was also a heavy dose of the strongest tracks from his latest album "Magna Carta Holy Grail." Jay and the band easily had the sharply dressed audience bouncing along for the lively "Tom Ford." And the crowd sang along to the live version of the not-so-humble #humblebrag that is "Picasso Baby."