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October 20, 2014

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Ten thoughts from last night’s Jay-Z & Kanye West concert

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Ron Koch/MGM GG Arena

Jay-Z performs at MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday night.

Look for a complete review of Friday’s MGM Grand Garden Arena show in the next print edition of Las Vegas Weekly, but for now …

1. The entrance: the two men atop separate platforms—West’s near the stage, Jay-Z’s deep in the crowd—which slowly rise up to become giant cubes … with video-screen sides … showing barking dogs, then swimming sharks. (Think: the columns in the Cosmopolitan lobby but way bigger and with two of the world’s most famous human beings on top.) Did anyone actually think these guys would just walk out onstage?

2. Blue lasers? Check. Fire? Yep. Tiger projections? Uh-huh.

3. It’s Watch the Throne to start—the show’s first five songs come from the pair’s 2011 collaboration—then they take turns in the spotlight for solo material. An early Jay-Z highlight: his rapid-fire rapping to close out “Jigga What, Jigga Who (Originator 99).”

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Kanye West

4. West’s weird “Jesus Walks” dance is still funny after all these years.

5. If I’m scoring this like a boxing match, Jay-Z is piling up rounds. His “Hard Knock Life”/“Izzo (Hova)”/”Empire State of Mind” stretch easily out-points West’s “Runaway”/“Heartless”/“Stronger” run (way too much Auto-Tune, Kanye!), then Jay-Z’s energetic “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” comes across like a knockout punch.

6. Hip-hop show or no, the bass is too loud. So loud it’s tough to make out the vocals at times.

7. We’ve heard lots of hits already tonight, but now we’re getting hits, in ridiculous succession. “Good Life.” Then “Touch the Sky.” Then “All of the Lights.” Then “Big Pimpin’.” Then “Gold Digger.” Then “99 Problems.” I can only think of one other show I saw this year that compares in terms of crowd-pleasing song familiarity: Paul McCartney in this same arena. Does that make Jay-Z and Kanye West the modern-day Beatles?

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Jay-Z

8. The duo performs its current chart-riding single, “Ni**as in Paris” … and then plays it again. Same song, longer version. Short encore break. Then Jay-Z and West are back with … “Ni**as in Paris.” Three times? Try six. We get six full renditions of the same song—Jay-Z yelling “Again!” before each one—and the odd gag actually works. As the stunt gets sillier, the song also gets more intense, the crowd dancing harder and shouting louder each time through. Call it the hip-hop equivalent of performance art. To quote from the song’s lyrics, “That sh*t cray.”

9. One suggestion if these guys tour together again: Bring along a live band. Jay-Z had one when he stopped at the Pearl in 2009, and it made a huge difference. This show has two keyboardists and a DJ, but live drums have it all over sampled beats in concert.

10. Final stats: Two hours, 35 minutes. 40-something numbers (depending how you count interludes and such). 13,100 bodies (sold out). And again, six versions of the same song.

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