Jay-Z At The Barclay’s: Opening Night Review
Incomplete, disappointing, anti-climatic, over hyped, and lacking. All words I could use to describe what promised to be one of the biggest nights ever for Hip Hop in New York City. What should have been Brooklyn’s best on display somehow turned into Jay-Z on auto pilot clearly pacing himself for the week’s run of shows. All but admitting it to the crowd when just over a hour into the festivities, he started closing them out. My first thoughts walking out of the arena ran the gamut from “Wheres Kanye?” to “Wow, nothing from the ‘Watch The Throne’ album? There was no Rihanna, J. Cole or even Bleek (despite all 3 being in the building), or any of the myriad of Brooklyn born rap artists (Fabolous, Busta Rhymes, Kim, Foxy, Lyte, Mos, Talib). I could overhear a women joke “did Beyonce have trouble getting a babysitter?” or better, “a performance of ‘Empire State of Mind’ performed in New York with no Alicia Keys?!” from a dude seated behind me. Perhaps all of our expectations were set way too high, but they were certainly shared by many. The collective let down could be seen on the faces and heard through the murmurs as we walked out with more questions than the news reports would have you believe that covered opening night.
Earlier in the evening I debated taking the train or just driving into Brooklyn and parking a few neighborhoods over. I wound up going the Long Island Rail Road route and it proved wise as the crush of pedestrians, cars, police, firefighters and traffic agents all met me as I stepped out onto Atlantic Avenue. The arena at night looks amazing. The ugly rusted metal (apparently to simulate the brownstone Brooklyn look) that is so prominent during the day is best when concealed by the darkness. At night your eyes focus on the brilliant blue Barclay lettering and the huge video screen. On this night at least, there were laser lights going in all directions coming from the roof of the arena. MTV News and a host of other folks carrying news cameras were outside the main entrance interviewing fans. It seemed like 75% of the guys on my line were wearing a B.I.G and/or Brooklyn Nets tee of some form or another. At the door we had to walk through metal detectors (ugh) but a employees warm “welcome to the Barclay’s Center, can I help you find your seat sir” is what disarmed me. Hospitality, check. That Walt Disney customer service consultation was put to good use. The building inside was dark and contemporary with a mix of grey, black and glass all put together. If you can think of a Brooklyn eatery, then it’s probably inside or coming soon, since we seemed to pass a food or alcohol vendor every few steps we took.
We got to our seats at 8p and wondered when they made the announcement that we could just ignore the start time on our ticket stubs. Virtually no one was seated and must have all been on the mile long beer line that we passed trying to find our section. Bedstuy Grill was our closest food option, so we took it. The service was slow, but courteous. Two orders of chicken fingers and fries, three burgers, and three sodas all for only sixty dollars and 75 cents ($60.75). I gave you the words and numbers so you don’t think that was a typo. The food was hot, fresh, and tasty with my ‘large’ 16 oz soda, in full compliance with NYC’s newest babysitting law. We were back in our seats by 8:30p and watched as the crowd filled in slowly. Little did we know at the time but there was no need to hurry since Jay-Z was still more than a hour away from stepping on stage.
Mister Cee kept the crowd entertained with all the best from Biggie as you would expect, along with plenty of Brooklyn cheerleading and a pro Obama, F**k Republicans rant or two. J. COLE, MEMPHIS BLEEK and LIL CEASE of Junior Mafia fame were all introduced to the crowd and all three spoke briefly. The lights finally dropped at 9:46p (yes, in our seats waiting from 8p-9:46p). A screen dropped giving us a brief architectural history of Brooklyn, before we could make out JAY Z’s silhouette through a open door turning up his mic. He came out all decked out in a black puffy vest w/ hoodie, a ‘Carter’ #4 black Brooklyn Nets jersey and matching jeans looking thinner, but more toned than normal. Things opened up with one of my favorites from 11 albums ago ‘Where I’m From,’ before running through a quick B.I.G tribute of songs and a instrumental freestyle or two. The first stir in the crowd came as ‘Run This Town’ started blaring from the speakers. “Ok, no RIHANNA or KANYE for that one” I thought in disappointment. Maybe KANYE hadn’t arrived to the arena yet. Then a requested moment of silence for B.I.G, while JAY got his microphone adjusted. Next up was a quick rendition of ‘Empire State of Mind’ minus Alicia Keys. “No ALICIA, kinda surprising but well whatever” I thought. After a medley of both street classics and his more popular fare we got to ‘Encore’ a known show closer by JAY as its name suggests. I looked at my watch and saw the time (10:50p) and dismissed any notions that the show was closing. After all, we were only a hour in. ‘Encore’ wraps up and JAY begins to thank the crowd over the instrumental and walks off the stage. Immediately my section starts clearing out as we look at each other thinking “no way.” We get outside to the main hallway and suddenly hear the music changing, and rush back in. “Ok, we should have known better than to think that JAY would end things like that” we said to one another in relief. JAY, after showing a Jackie Robinson jersey and discussing how proud he is of helping to bring an arena back to Brooklyn immediately goes into ‘What More Can I Say’ and ‘Do It Again.’ We could feel the energy in the arena going up.
After a brief introduction, BIG DADDY KANE comes rushing out in all white and immediately starts going into a set performing the classic ’Aint No Half Stepping,’ followed by ‘Set It Off’ and finishing up strong with ‘Warm It Up Kane’ with Scoob and Scrap Luva in tow for the full dance routine (an emcee that dances and raps competently – that may sound strange to those of you < 30 years old). The former King of New York Hip Hop set the stage on fire damn near upstaging the host.
JAY came back out and immediately started in with his verse from ‘Aint Nobody F**kin With My Click’ from KANYE and crew’s “Cruel Summer” album. We braced ourselves, but it was all for naught as KANYE and crew were all no-shows officially. Two more song verses followed before JAY closed things out with ‘Forever Young’ from the “Black Album before leaving the stage for the final time.” This time we paused momentarily to make sure but there would be no return. I looked down at my watch and smiled to myself for worrying earlier if I would be able to catch the last train out of Atlantic Terminal, at midnight. No worries since I had a nearly a hour to get across Flatbush Avenue. All good since I needed the time to lament not taking any of the offers being made for my opening night ticket outside of Barclay’s earlier in the evening. We headed over to Modell’s across the street to try and find a Brooklyn basketball jersey to suit a 19 month old‘s body and her picky mother‘s sense of style. I couldn’t find a thing. No luck, no satisfaction. Figures on this night.
***UPDATE: Jay-Z concluded his 8 show run at the Barclay’s this past Saturday with a noticeably more spirited performance that was streamed over his YouTube channel Life & Times. The performance featured an appearance by his superstar wife Beyonce as a treat to the dedicated fans who managed to get tickets to the last of his eight shows for the week. A very special shout out to us slackers who got in early. Thanks Jay!***
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