I Am Music Tour Review - Lil Wayne and Friends Take Over the Gibson Amphitheatre

Monday night the Gibson Amphitheatre was lit ablaze with the beginning of the I Am Music Tour, featuring MTV’s "Man of the Year" Lil Wayne as the headline attraction. The concert is an eclectic collection of fresh faces and time-tested veterans of the current Hip-Hop music scene.  

Keri Hilson in concert

The show opened a bit early with the Soul stylings of Keri Hilson. With only a EP under her belt, the sing does her best to kindle the energy of the crowd; a daunting task for an opening act that will be waiting a solid two hours for the main attraction to hit the stage. But Hilson does a fine job of heat up that stage. Flanked by two female dancers, she gives a sassy, sexy performance. Her singles “Energy” and “Turnin’ Me On” both featured tight female harmonies reminiscent of Destiny’s Child or En Vogue, but her live vocals survive well above the pre-recorded background voices and music. The singer gave a relatively contained performance for such a large stage as the Gibson. It remains to be seen if the singer’s start will ascend to a point where she will command a space like that in its entirety.

Gym Class Heroes bounced onto the stage next.  Preambled by a flagbearer who waved the group’s banner throughout most of the performance, the seven young men take the stage with all the confidence of any seasoned garage band. Frontman Travis McCoy, clad in a very yellow fireman’s coat, shouts out a welcome to the crowd and humble mantra at will be echo by every artist thereafter in the evening, “…without you, we’re nothing.” 

Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes

Their first number, “Guilty as Charged” had many fans on their feet in an instant. With a minimum of small talk through numbers, the group sailed through four more songs including “Cookie Jar” and “New Friend Request”. Gym Class Heroes has a sound that combines funk, rock and soul under the vocal umbrella of rap lyrics, a combination that suspiciously connoted the roots of Reggae. McCoy worked the stage well, progressively shedding his clothes to reveal his tat covered arms and torso. Playful and charming, Gym Class Heroes performed a great set, displaying both musicianship and showmanship with “Viva La White Girl” being their strongest number of the night.

Urban songtress Keyshia Cole was the pure R&B element infused into this night of Rap performances. Armed with four-piece band, two backup singers and four dancers, Cole rolled out ten great numbers including “Make Me Over” where she held her own in a two step with the professional dancer counterparts. For most of the show, her on stage performances were accompanied by the display of her music videos on the amphitheater’s video screens. The video monitors were key when she took a significant portion of her show to pay homage to the enduringly popular, sorely missed Tupac Shakur. A duet with him called “Playa Cardz Right” appears on her latest CD.

Keyshia cole in concert

With minimal costume changes that only added to the black, onyx-studded, form-fitting, burlesque style bodysuit she wore the entire performance, the best numbers of the night were when Cole left the dancing to her two couple entourage and simply took center state to sing. Those were the moments when the true pathos and emotion of her lyrics shined best. Cole brought the house down with her single “Love”, the track that put her on the map. Handwritten lyrics trailed mid-screen across the giant monitors like high end karaoke scroll; ironic since, judging by the monstrous chorus of voices that sang along, every woman in the audience already knew the words.

T-Pain took the stage next after a short intermission. His set came complete with two tents and a DJ sitting high atop an elevated platform. T-Pain’s performance was centered around creating this circus for the audience, complete with mimes, people on stilts, dancing little people and fire twirlers. Shadowed by a white-faced mime, the Rapper clanked out a dozen crowd-pleasing hits that had the house on its feet for most of his time on stage.

T-Pain (back right) with his "Thr33 Ringz" Circus

Personally, I didn’t get it. With the exception of Keyshia Cole, I wasn’t familiar any of the acts on this tour, and T-Pain was the one act with which I was the least impressed. I get that key elements in Rap acts are posturing and personae but I wasn’t feeling T-Pain at all. His songs were shorter than anyone else’s (proven by the fact of how many times he asked “How much time do we have left?”). His dancing was sloppy; nowhere near the level of his Mini counterparts. There was one virtuoso moment where T-Pain sat behind a piano and riffed on the chorus of one of his song. It was a great peek at the artist as a musician and a vocalist, versus as a performer who seemed dependent on spectacle.

It was the general lack of polish with the T-Pain show that kept me at arms length. Compared to the other acts on this bill, he just didn’t seem in the same league. Then again, perhaps it is that very roughness that is the root of his appeal. Perhaps that is his role in this ensemble: the Ringmaster of theatrics and spectacle. After all, there were only two of us who weren’t singing along with every note, having a great time during his segment.

Lil Wayne in Concert - "I Am Music" Tour

Once the curtains were drawn back, and the laser and spot lights come up, the stage setting for the headliner of the I Am Music Tour was surprisingly bare. It was a set that allowed the audience to easily look into the wings; and consequently, it was a stage that was literally ready for anything to happen upon it. Four video panels flickered to life, filled the back wall of the stage. The Band: Keyboards, Guitar, Bass and Drums all flew in gracefully from cabled platforms suspended from the ceiling. Also hanging from the ceiling rode in the DJ, encircled by a giant flashing “video cube”. In Khaki Bermuda pants, plain white T-Sirt, baseball cap and Dreds flying, Lil Wayne takes the stage. Very early in his set the Rap artist delivers a humble and heartfelt acknowledgement to his thousands of fans present Monday night:

“I need to tell you three things. First off, I believe in God, do you?... Second, without you, I’m nothing. And third, nothing you all, I’m nothing.”

From there the concert went on without much of a lull or break, save two costume changes. Among the many hits performed were “Fireman” (accompanied by actual columns of fire on stage), “BM J.R.”, “La La”, “Lollipop” and his latest runaway hit “Mrs. Officer”.  There was also more than a passing shout out to all the kids in the audience who have been following his music since the underground “mixtape” days.

It was remarkable how one man could fill the enormous Gibson Amphitheatre stage with such intensity and energy by himself or with genuine fun-loving affection when he gave the spotlight to others in his extended performing family. Lil Wayne seemed to be having fun and he shared that joy of performing with the audience, who were on their feet the entire time. As one of the two person that evening who did not know the words to every song, what I appreciated most was that this artist does not forsake the music itself for the Rap art form. For all the lyrics that just flew by too quickly, there was driving, pulsating, dramatic, infectious music to be enjoyed and an electrifying performance happening on stage.

Congrats Mr. Carter. I am intrigued and I'd like to get to know your music a bit better.

The I Am Music Tour continues its 22 city tour across the country and Canada through January 19th, with shows still being added. Remaining tour dates include:

12/26 - Detroit, MI @ Joe Louis Arena
12/27 - Chicago, IL @ United Center
12/28 - Philadelphia, PA @ Susquehanna Bank Center
12/29 - Greensboro, NC @ Greensboro Coliseum
12/30 - Washington, DC @ Verizon Center
12/31 - Atlanta, GA @ Philips Arena
  1/2 - Charlotte, NC @ Bobcat Arena
  1/3 - Hampton, VA @ Hampton Coliseum
  1/4 - Cleveland, OH @ Quicken Loans Arena
  1/8 - St. Louis, MO @ Chaifetz Arena
  1/9 - Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
  1/11 - New Orleans, LA @ New Orleans Arena
  1/14 - Montreal, CAN @ Bell Centre
  1/15 - Toronto, CAN @ Air Canada Centre
  1/16 - Uniondale, NY @ Nassau Coliseum
  1/17 - Hartford, CT @ New England Dodge Music Center
  1/18 - Atlantic City, NJ @ Boardwalk Hall
  1/19 - Worcester, MA @ DCU Center

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