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October 8, 2013 by Dan Nixon
This review should have been easy to write. Jay Z, quite simply the biggest name in hip hop performing at the stunning Phones 4u Arena in the cultural Mecca known as Manchester? The words will flow like champagne from an oversized bottle of Cristal, surely?
But writing about the show has been insanely difficult. You see, when Jay Z took to the stage on the evening of 4 October the electricity in the air and the sense of anticipation in the room was beyond words. Would he play the hits? Has he still got it after all these years? Could the hype surrounding the tour be justified? The answer is of course a resounding yes. Mr Carter has never been so relevant, so captivating or so amazingly on form.
The King of hip hop
Emerging from the centre of an elaborate stage setup, the Hova instantly had every single person in the 20,000 strong crowd in the palm of his hand. Starting out with a brace of tracks from latest album Magna Carta, the atmosphere went from fevered to awestruck.
Dressed all in black and sporting a trademark baseball cap, Jigga simply stalked the stage allowing his undeniable stage presence to wash over the audience. The minimal backing band (including a certain Timbaland on samples) was watertight and provided the perfect backing to the rhymes of Brooklyn’s finest export.
The hits came thick and fast, although an early highlight was the ultra-short Beach Is Better which provided an intense minute long distillation of how well hip hop can work in a live context.
Empires, pimps and problems
After exploring more recent material, the focus then turned to the Mr Z’s earlier work, and supersized anthems including Empire State of Mind and Big Pimpin’ were rolled out to nothing short of pandemonium.
A short interlude followed, presumably to give the 43 year old rapper a few minutes to recuperate and re-energize, with Timbaland stepping up to show off his extensive beat-boxing skills.
Following the break, the main man returned and promptly took the roof off with a searing rendition of Ni**as In Paris. Immediate, angry and bouncing with swagger; never has a song played in a huge arena sounded so claustrophobic and downright edgy.
Strength in numbers
The breathless pace continued for the rest of the 24 track strong set, with proceedings watched over by Mrs Carter (aka Beyonce) who kept a low profile throughout within the sound engineer’s enclosure.
The inevitable encore upped the ante once more, with hip hop standards Izzo (H.O.V.A) and Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) offering a fittingly bombastic conclusion. The emotionally rich Young Forever closed the show, and a visibly euphoric crowd left the arena inspired and fired up in the way only a great live show can offer.
With young pretenders such as Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator pushing the boundaries of hip hop to new frontiers, Jay Z’s crown has been questioned in recent times. But from the evidence seen at the Phones 4u Arena, his royal highness is still very much alive and kicking. Long live the King.
For tickets to other upcoming Phones 4u Arena gigs, click here.
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