|Photos by Marco Torres|
Show of hands if any of you have ever been wrangled into a time-share scheme. Wherein you have to sit and listen to a talking head decked out in Sears' finest grind down your gears with a two-hour seminar on some delightful ocean-front property. Now, add in blaring hip-hop beats, synthetic gunshots, and strippers dancing inside fire. Welcome to your first Lil Wayne concert. Coffee and donuts are in the corner.
There's a swift current running at hip-hop concerts that belies a hustling ethic that rock fans will probably never see unless they leave their power-chord cocoon. No doubt people with way more schoolin' than this writer will ever wield have written countless studies on this phenomenon that is unique to the culture that cradles hip-hop. A five-year-old boy attempted to sell this writer a king-size poster of Weezy along with a plastic necklace with a wicked skull on it in the concession area, with the tenacity of a carny seven times his age.
Everything is for sale, except the artists themselves.
It's their wares that they are hawking. In rock circles it's usually the other way around, with artists selling their souls and letting their music fall into the peat bog of mediocrity as their faux-smile becomes the only instrument they can play. Lil' Wayne is one such artist who has become increasingly enigmatic and guarded as he has climbed up the ladder of Middle America-approved hip-hop. So much so that just a few months ago Katie Couric came around to interview him and introduce him to the nation at large.
It's the selling that becomes grating as one sits at a Lil' Wayne concert, as if there are card-swipers at each of our seats just waiting for us to choose "credit" or "debit," a la the lady at Randall's who can never seem to pronounce our last name. Alternately, one cannot blame an artist in this shaky day and uneven age to want to get their licks in entrepreneur-style, no matter what genre they hail from. His own boutique label Young Money wasn't exactly soft-selling anything Saturday night.
Weezy is a dynamic performer who has learned to play to the back of the house, Iron Maiden-style. Once in an interview Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson preached the gospel of putting on a show for those in the nose-bleeds, and Weezy now has full grasp of that tenant. You make every movement large, and you make damn sure those people know who you are, even if you are 300 rows away from them and you are all of 66 inches tall.
Use of fire, tits and even more fire if needed is imperative. Get those tits to dance in the fire if possible. You can't belittle Weezy without seeing his live show. Simply put, it's a carnival of flames and dames, and vaguely Kid Rock-ish. Just replace the stars n' bars with a fleur-de-lis and even better weed. Whatever lessons he has learned about showmanship since he came out swinging in 1999 with his solo debut away from Hot Boys, The Block Is Hot
, weren't from rap monoliths like Biggie and Tupac. His latest, last years Tha Carter III
is a sprawling rap epic akin to All Eyez On Me
, albeit pared down to 16 radio radio-ready tracks.
The Weezy show was going swimmingly until about halfway through, when it became some sort of nightmare for anti-consumerists. About a good dozen of Young Money up-and-comers were given almost a half-hour of the show to trot out their styles as Weezy looked on like some sort of crazed and dreadlocked beauty pageant host.
Artists like the diminutive Lil' Chuckee, not even old enough for a learner's permit, came out to hawk their lyrical wares we began to wonder if we would be voting on these people. Would we need to get inside a booth on the way out and punch a few holes, or would we get a number we could text our favorites to? We didn't have a problem test-driving new talent, just not at a show with only one name on the ticket.
In the end, it had to be like this, we guess. You have to sit through a few songs of classic Weezy, hear the spiel about how grand he is, see his many protégés that he has signed to carry on his legacy, and then if his plan goes right, leave your seat zombie-like and buy the shit out of whatever he was selling. In age when bi-partisan teabaggers are crying out into the radio waves that the era of socialism is here, a Lil Wayne show is proof positive that capitalism is still in charge. Hell, Weezy even gives you about a dozen flavors from his label roster to choose from, a notion that you don't get with red-hot communism.
In the end the show came off as little more than a fuck-riddled Amway meeting with way better music and the option to get stoned in the middle of it if you preferred.