Like every embarrassing middle class white guy who “dabbles” in Hip-Hop, when the opportunity to see the “rap games” big dogs Jay-Z and Kanye West presented itself I couldn't turn it down. That said, I only managed to tout a ticket an hour before the gig started, and it even turned out to be have a fairly good view of the main stage as well as the smaller stage in the middle of the crowd.
The only awkward part of touting this ticket came when the group who's spare ticket I'd bought turned up. The gang consisted of three girls in their Primark rave wear and two of their huge boyfriends. They were friendly enough, but slightly annoyed I'd paid considerably less than them for their ticket.
Enough about me, however, on with the show. Jay-Z and Kanye, or The Throne as I believe they're known when performing together. Each started the show on their own raised podium at either end of the arena, wearing practically the same dark clothing and told us to bounce, throw up our hands and told us how good they were at having sex with women. Part of me really enjoyed this, but another more cynical part of me thought it all seemed a bit, well, homoerotic. Like two teenage boys copying each other and talking about girls when they really fancied each other. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
After a few misguided bounces and throwing up my hands I decided it was probably for the best that I just stood and tapped my foot in appreciation as the rest of the arena went mad for our new Hip Hop overlords. The constant pulsing of the bass was surprisingly good for Manchester Arena, which can often sound either way too dirgy or completely tinny and it only took about thirty seconds after the lights went out for the smell of weed to dissipate into the air.
Part of me really enjoyed this, but another more cynical part of me thought it all seemed a bit, well, homoerotic. Like two teenage boys copying each other and talking about girls when they really fancied each other. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The basic format of the set was very heavy on the hits, purists (I imagine) might have preferred a few B-Sides or risky choices, but the casual audience seemed to enjoy it. This also seemed to suit Kanye West's solo songs more than the Jay-Z's, with them being naturally more pop orientated. The biggest audience reactions in the early set were for New York State Of Mind and Run This Town, even if both Alicia Keys and Rihanna's sample vocals had been sped up to chipmunk level.
The pace was slowed down somewhat for the much more soft New Day, in which Jay-Z swapped from his moody pretend Gangster character to his moody sombre family man character, Kanye West also rapped in this song “If I ever had a son, I wouldn't let him have an ego, I'd make him be nice to everyone he know,” this seemed slightly disingenuous, if not hypocritical from a man who had his teeth replaced by diamonds and I couldn't help but wonder if that applied to bouncers in Newcastle.
Anyway, Jay rattled out a few more hits and Kanye was mysteriously absent before reappearing in the centre podium with a complete costume change, wearing more jackets than any really should, including one tied round his waist styled like a schoolboy's jumper on a warm day. Kanye did an extended set here of songs heavily auto-tuned songs, which appealed to my pop sensibilities, but think the lack of bass might have lost the audience if he'd have attempted just one more song.
This seemed slightly disingenuous, if not hypocritical from a man who had his teeth replaced by diamonds and I couldn't help but wonder if that applied to bouncers in Newcastle.
Never fear though, it was soon Jay-Z's turn on top of the other pedestal, this time dressed like the Emperor from Star Wars. At least that's what he looked a bit like, the pedestal was more lit with green smoke rather than anything conventional. After this Kanye rejoined Jay on the stage in a different black t-shirt, this time with more jewellery pritt sticked onto it. With both rappers back on the stage they went on a very good run of the really big hits, Good Life, Touch The Sky, Big Pimpin, Goldigga and finally 99 Problems. This obvious highlight of the set came to an end with a video of animals fighting each other, the aftermath of Katrina, a little boy at a KKK rally and finally the mushroom cloud exploding over Hiroshima all backed by Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World, it's poignant and meaningful, yeah?
This poignant meaningful line was towed a little longer with a snappily shot video of a riot while The Throne performed No Church In The Wild. I missed most of the actual song as I was transfixed by the video, in which faceless riot police brutally attacked young rioters, but all I could really think about was “ooh that shots nice.” Poignant yes, authentic, maybe not so much.
The Throne closed with set with a fairly relaxed five performances of Niggaz In Paris, especially compared to the thirteen times it was played in the city it takes it's title from. This was still a strong triumphant finish, and in terms of Hip Hop giants it is hard to see anyone taking “The Throne” away from, well, The Throne.
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