Live Last Night: Jay-Z

Jay-Z and some special guests made it a memorable night at the Warner Theatre. (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images/MTV)

The 8 p.m. start time printed on the ($500) tickets for Jay-Z's inauguration eve concert at the Warner Theatre was clearly advisory: At that hour, there was only a sprinkling of people inside the historic venue. By 8:45, maybe half of the nearly 2,000 seats were filled. But from that point on, the buzz started to build.

In a week of hot tickets and can't-miss shows, this one clearly ranked at the top. This wasn't some mish-mash of performers at an official ball or a sanitized outdoor event. This was Hova, the King, holding court, full band in tow, rumored special guests galore. It wasn't the main event of the week, but it certainly had top billing on the undercard.

From the moment he walked on stage -- wearing a vest, Abraham Lincoln-emblazoned T-shirt and baggy jeans -- Jay-Z was in complete control. The 39-year-old rap mogul was truly a larger-than-life figure, a commanding presence both visually and on the mic. His 10-piece band helped propel him through "Brooklyn Go Hard," "Can I Live" and "Dead Presidents" as overjoyed audience members put up their diamond hand signs, danced in the aisles and threw their hands in the air.

Young Jeezy joined Hova for an electric version of Jeezy's "My President Is Black," concluding with the Jay-Z proclamation: "No more white lies, my president is black!" Mayhem ensued -- screams, high-fives, pandemonium. As powerful as the songs sounded with the band, especially the three-piece horn section that seriously funked things up, the most captivating moments came when it was just Jay-Z on the mic, particularly on "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," a song that he proudly acknowledged was a favorite of President Obama's.

In short, the first 40 minutes of the show proved that his "greatest of all time" boasts aren't boasts at all. Just the facts.

Then things really started to get good.

Suddenly, it's Mary J. Blige! And not subdued Mary J., but ready to party, flailing all over the stage in tight vinyl pants Mary J. The pair ripped through "Can't Knock the Hustle" from Jay-Z's 1996 debut "Reasonable Doubt," Jigga breathing fire on the verses while the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul more than lived up to her nickname on the chorus. Jay-Z left the stage briefly and Blige performed "You Bring Me Joy" and a moving version of U2's "One" that brought tears to the eyes of more than a few members of the audience.

But there was no time to get sentimental. Jay-Z came back out quickly took things to another level with a string of hit singles: "I Know," "Show Me What You Got" and "99 Problems," which was a full-on arena rock assault that threatened to blow the roof off the 85-year-old venue. Samuel L. Jackson -- complete in Kangol hat, of course -- could be seen singing along in one of the theater's private boxes. He was far from the only one. After the DJ dropped a brief tease of "Bonnie and Clyde '03" the lights suddenly went out. A screen dropped from the rafters. A shapely silhouette appeared behind it.


The ubiquitous "Single Ladies" beat blasted from the stage and Beyonce emerged. Yes, wearing those hot pants from the video. Yes, I started shaking. No, I'm not sure if it was because of the chaos in the building or my nervous system just collapsing.

She started gyrating and singing and nearly everyone in the theater reached for a camera or cell phone. The immediate urge was to text "OMG!!!11!!" to my entire address book. I stopped after four, thankyouverymuch. Had to witness it. Honestly, it was a blur of shaking, hip-swiveling and shouldaputa. But it was amazing, to be sure and it was over in a flash, and she was gone.

At that point in the show, the electricity in the building was overwhelming and it really felt like anything could happen. Kanye stopping by? Obama making an appearance? Tupac rising from the dead to drop a verse?

It's hard to argue that any concert is worth $500, but if you could afford the ticket, there was no way you were walking out feeling like you got ripped off. Not a chance. It turned out the guest spots for the night were done, but that was fine. This was a Jay-Z show,after all. So how could he possibly follow his wife's show-stopping cameo? How about by reeling off "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," "Can I Get A...," "Big Pimpin'" and "Hard Knock Life" consecutively? It was staggering to hear how many mega-hits Jay-Z has accumulated over his career, and how potent each one of them sounded on this night.

Although he threatened to play for "three or four hours" early in the set, things wrapped up in under two, but not before a stagehand brought out a bottle of champagne as big as the water jug in your office and Jay-Z passed it around for those up front to get a taste. There was no encore, just the set-closing "Encore," which featured him asking, "Do you want more?!" The answer was an obvious yes, but to be honest, that might have been too much. The night was perfect as it was.

By David Malitz |  January 20, 2009; 12:32 PM ET Inauguration , Live Last Night
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That's the anthem, get your damn hands up!


Posted by: nattotodd | January 20, 2009 2:34 PM

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