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December 28, 2014

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Concert review: Jay-Z and Kanye West at MGM Grand

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Ron Koch / MGM

A murky, bass-heavy mix overpowered the rappers’ vocals with annoying regularity (and wouldn’t you know it, it affected Jay-Z’s lyrically rich rhymes more often than West’s Auto-Tuned dreck).

Hip-hop is built to fill clubs, not arenas. Friday at the MGM Grand, Jay-Z and Kanye West proved that they’re a rare exception in that regard—and that they’re not.

Touring behind August collaboration Watch the Throne, the pair certainly had the production to pull off the big show. They began atop separate platforms that rose to become massive cubes, their sides projecting vivid images of barking dogs and swimming sharks. From there we got laser lights, pyrotechnics and towering videos that would have made Pink Floyd proud in the 1970s.

The Details

Jay-Z and Kanye West
Three stars
December 9, MGM Grand

The two men also have the hits to command an arena crowd, as the 13,100-ticket sellout proved rather definitively. When West and Jay-Z weren’t teaming up for tunes off Throne, they were taking turns on lead microphone, for songs even your grandma can sing in the grocery aisles: “Jesus Walks,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Stronger,” “Empire State of Mind.” And just when it seemed like the setlist couldn’t go bigger, it went supermassive, firing “Good Life,” “Touch the Sky,” “All of the Lights,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Gold Digger” and “99 Problems” at us—in succession. Whew.

What kept the concert from being a classic? Unsurprisingly, the sound. A murky, bass-heavy mix overpowered the rappers’ vocals with annoying regularity (and wouldn’t you know it, it affected Jay-Z’s lyrically rich rhymes more often than West’s Auto-Tuned dreck). A full band—like the one Jay-Z brought to the Pearl in 2009—would have made far more sonic sense than this DJ-and-keyboards setup. Maybe next time.

To end the night, West and Jay-Z went with a stunt that seemed odd on paper but actually worked onstage. After performing current single “Ni**as in Paris” they paused and then played it again to end the main set. For an encore, the guys came back with, yep, “Ni**as in Paris,” then did the same song again … and again … and again … We ended up with six full versions, each wilder and more intense than the one before.

To paraphrase the song’s chorus, that sh*t was indeed cray, but for better and for worse, hip-hop conventions aren’t of serious concern on the Watch the Throne tour.

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