Last Night: Powerhouse 2009 at the Honda Center featuring Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas, Pitbull, Lil' John, Flo Rida, Sean Paul, LMFAO, Kid Cudi, Far East Movement, New Boyz and Ya Boy.
Better Than: A long, shitty drive to San Manuel Casino.
Download: Pssh, like you really need ME to tell you what to download.
Striding through a police-patrolled crosswalk in a sea of skinny jeans, fluorescent tees and accessorized millennial swagger, hallmarks of hip hop's new generation were unavoidable at Powerhouse 2009. And despite the refreshingly diverse crowd that lined up for a security pat down at the Honda Center on Saturday it's even more satisfying to know that followers of glossy jerkin' jams and auto tune hooks could deal with the fact that Jay-Z, the night's headliner, isn't exactly a fan of hip hop's new candy coated aesthetic (see his overplayed radio single D.O.A.). Because at the end of the day, in the words of Hova himself, "it's only entertainment". Ain't that the truth.
And entertainment was definitely in heavy supply as Powerhouse, presented by hip hop radio station Power 106 FM, bulged with more big names including Pit Bull, Lil Jon, Sean Paul, Flo Rida, LMFAO, and Kid Cudi. Before the main attractions, fans also got some hyped up antics from scrappy radio rookies Far East Movement, New Boyz and Ya Boy. One thing that came as no surprise was the quick turnarounds between sets that basically ran like this: play your hit(s), get off stage.
Rocking a laid back get up (Cleveland Indians ball cap, fresh sneakers and skinny jeans) Kid Cudi, Cleveland-born electro rap extraordinaire, delivered all the energy his wiry, tattooed frame could muster. In front of the venue's giant glowing acid trip display screen, Cudi caught the crowd's attention with his mega hits "Make Her Say" and Day'N'Nite" before bouncing off stage.
No sooner had the 25 year-old Kayne West protege vanished, when the audience was hit with the a surging neon punch from party rap duo LMFAO. Having made the rounds on plenty of club gigs and festivals around the country, the uncle/nephew tag team of Red Foo and Sky Blue (see Amanda Parson's article on the group in this weeks paper) know how to incite a crowd. Dawning their usual wardrobe of neon grandeur and non functional 80s eye wear, the LA emcees hit us with bouncy choreography a wandering mish-mash of back up dancers, and even a little bit of Keytar as Foo plunked out the vocoder-drenched chorus of "Lalala". Red Foo even showed a little bit of balls (not literally) when he openly proclaimed his groups love for auto tune...no matter what anyone else thinks of it. For what it's worth, his fans probably don't care.
The end of LMFAO's set was the perfect time to turn the arena into one big billboard as audiences sat and waited for Sean Paul to arrive. Huge TV screens on either side of the stage pitched ads for cell phones, movies, etc. while avid texters wet themselves with excitement as they watched their messages flash on a huge boost mobile display screen hanging from the rafters. It was another ever present reminder that technology is everywhere...and that the spelling words correctly has indeed become a lost art.
And while not much of what is being said about this show so far is less than what you'd expect (including Sean Paul's set which was basically a rapid fire live interpretation of his biggest hits), there were some surprise guests in the mix. It turns out Power 106 got a hold of some real ballers, including the Lakers' Jordan Farmar and Derek Fisher (a repeat guest on Big Boy's Neighborhood morning show) who came out to greet the crowd brought on stage by Big Boy and the rest of his morning show team (Luscious Liz, Tattoo and few others). And the surprises didn't end there. More on that later.
Of course, some parts leading up to Izzo's Anaheim entrance went slower than others. In Flo Rida's case, he obviously tried to take his time, or, for the most part, waste his time. Whether it was signing handfuls of towels on stage, hosting a barley legal booty shaking contest with some female fans, laying down on his back for the first minute of his hit single "Sugar", making his DJ cringe as he fumbled around pretending to scratch or holding his own wet t-shirt contest, his set didn't involve much flowing. Although most people probably got a kick out of watching the ripped rapper being carried through the crowd at the end of his performance on the shoulders of one of his body guards/man servants. You had to feel sorry for the dude holding him up. But then again, the opportunity to endure Flo Rida's ball sweat on the nape of your neck night after night probably amounts to a pretty nice paycheck.
But even after Flo Rida was done, the dirty south couldn't be truly represented without the reggaeton/crunk combo of Pitbull and Lil'Jon. As probably the only performer with enough class to sweat on stage in a three piece suit, Miami hit maker Pitbull came out hard with a drummer, DJ and keyboardist in toe as he launched into songs like "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)" and "Hotel Room Service". By the time he brought Lil' Jon to the party, the fog machines were working overtime and the crowd was eating it up. And even though Lil' Jon is increasingly starting to seem like a relic of crunk's glory days, we never get tired of hearing "YYYEEEAAHH!" do we? In that regard, LJ's presence was a must for Powerhouse.
One thing that wasn't on the list for Saturday was a set by the Black Eyed Peas. But we got it anyway.After being introduced by guest DJ Felli-Fel, the crowd went absolutely bonkers with a roar that echoed back to the cheap seats. Giant robots were erected, lasers beamed, lights flashed and dancers in full body spandex sprang to their places as the Peas greeted the Honda Center. If nothing else, their show was high energy from the first minute to the last. And though brief, the group predictably managed to squeeze out their latest radio singles "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Got A Feeling". Of course their appearance could have been a second shot at some OC love after their show at Pacific Amphitheater last week. It makes sense.
As the Peas exited and their rubber robots went limp, the moment of Jay-Z's arrival was near. And you knew exactly how near by the countdown of a dooms day clock projected on stage, counting down from three minutes. As the seconds ticket to zero, the band on stage exploded into D.O.A. (Death of Auto Tune) with rumbling bass, percussion and that signature repetitive guitar riff.
As the crowd watched the elaborate digital display of violent explosions, the Brooklyn-born superstar took fans on a non stop musical journey that only he could deliver, through album after album, hit after hit. Once again his own words during the show said it all: "I got a million a these".
Jumping effortlessly from "Rocc Boys (And the Winner Is)" to "Big Pimpin'", Jay-Z had the crowd in his palm. He even managed to squeeze in a Michael Jackson tribute in the middle of the show crammed with pictures, even injecting a bit of the Jackson 5's ABC instrumentals into his classic "Izzo (H.O.V.A.). Other examples of Jay's masterful crowd control came fluidly, whether it was thrusting his mic into the darkness so the crowd could finish his lyrics, finishing flows a capella, or splitting each side of the arena in to a shouting competition. During his performance of "Jigga What, Jigga Who", he cued the right and left side to shout their respective lyric: JIGGA WHAT!.....JIGGA WHO! (the "jigga who" side totally won by the way).
After a solid hour of hits, Jay poured it on even thicker with an encore of classics that included "Hard Knock Life", "Money Ain't a Thang", "Can I Get a...." and the awe inspiring "99 Problems" complete with once controversial music video featuring him and producer Rick Rubin.
Before the night was over, Jay took an extra 10 minutes to give personal thank yous to members of the crowd depending on whether or not you could catch his attention. It's a little trick that he may or may not have picked up from his wife Beyonce Knowles, whose known for doing the same thing at her shows from time to time. But whether you got a shout or not, it was hard not to feel a little special being in the presence of Hova himself in the dawn before the new album, The Blueprint III hits stores. It was a feeling that transcended wardrobes and gimmicks and solidified the reason why this concert still deserves the right to be called Powerhouse.
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Personal Bias: As someone who had a tough choice deciding between Rock the Bells and Powerhouse this year, I'd have to say that watching a legend in my own backyard sounded way better than a drive to San Bernardino.
Random Detail: Did anyone notice the same picture messages of the same babies were being shown over and over again on the Boost Mobile screen? Who ARE these parents?
By the Way: You, in the neon colored tank top and short shorts....I see ya.