By Chuck Cox
It’s always refreshing when you see an artist perform who is at the top of his game and seems genuinely grateful for the fans who helped him reach those lofty heights. And it’s usually pretty easy to tell when that love is genuine.
Such was the case when Jay Z brought his “Magna Carter World Tour” to the American Airlines Center on Saturday night. For nearly two hours, Mr. Carter had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand with his flawless flow, contagious energy, expansive catalogue, gold chains, and backwards Brooklyn Nets hat.
With three backing musicians and super producer Timbaland — who got about five minutes of the show to himself — helping out, Jay Z played a strong set list that included hits from throughout his career, along with several cuts from his latest, Magna Carta Holy Grail. Jay Z repeatedly told fans that “We’re just getting started” and “I’ve got a million of them,” referring to his hits.
Jay Z had a smile on his face almost the entire night, as he fed off the considerable energy from the crowd. Of course, songs like “99 Problems,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “N***** in Paris,” and “Empire State of Mind” got the biggest reactions, but the new songs he played fared very well in a concert setting — perhaps even more so than the original album versions.
Prior to “N***** in Paris,” Jay Z told security to stand down so people could dance in the aisles, which was a cool moment. I also enjoyed the crowd lighting up the arena with cell phone lights during set-closer “Young Forever,” which Jay Z dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela.
There were also video screens on either side of the stage flashing up tons of images all night. My favorites were when the screens split into eight camera angles of the show. And even though the stage and production were both enormous, it was still just a solid hip hop show for a big crowd at heart.
Toward the end of the night, Jay Z pointed out several fans in the crowd for the camera to zoom in on. Among them was Erykah Badu, Jay Electronica and their daughter. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an artist point out that many fans at a show.
I saw Jay Z with Kanye West on the “Watch the Throne” tour a couple of years ago, but this was my first time to see Mr. Carter solo. Not surprisingly, Jay Z knows how to put on a show. Seemingly, he knows how to do just about everything well.
The only bummer of the night was the DJ who spun tunes for an hour as the “opening act.” It was fine for a few minutes, but I eventually found myself yawning and playing Candy Crush on my phone. Still, it was a very entertaining evening that was an early Christmas present to myself.
Make sure to check back soon for my Top 10 concerts of 2013.