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UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE: Lil Wayne in Raleigh, NC 08/08/09

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So, I was asked by a paper to attend the ‘America’s Most Wanted’ tour and review it, but then the piece never ran and no one will tell me why, so here it is. It’s a good reminder of why, despite rawk-star trappings right now, Wayne’s still wonderfully weird and the only guy to pull something like this off.-b

Following a fun, but perfunctory performance from Soulja Boy, and a head-down, straight rapping set from Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, the star of the “America’s Most Wanted Tour”, which came to Raleigh’s Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion a couple Saturdays ago, took the stage amidst a flurry of samples from Scarface and a screen projecting a psychedelic collage of eyeballs. The self-declared “best rapper alive” immediately let-out an unhinged freestyle (“Cannon”) before segueing into mega-hit, “A Milli…which is also an unhinged freestyle.

See, that’s the thing about Lil Wayne: There’s no difference between the rote (samples from a tough-guy rapper-approved classic, playing the hits) and the rarefied (a trippy eyeball video, endlessly thrilling nonsense raps)–it’s all awesomely muddled. This was a big, outdoor show where it often felt like the audience indulged the performer.

Because he’s at his best when he’s impulsive and scatter-brained, indulgence is less of a problem than it might seem. Remember, Wayne is a guy who–though he’s been rapping and making hits since the late 90s—carved out his one-of-a-kind path to pop stardom via quasi-official “mixtape” tracks that more often than not, consisted of hook-less, structure-less, oddball rapping. Part of the enjoyment of listening or seeing Wayne is the experience: the high-highs as well as the distracted asides.

Even though the performance was anchored in mixtape songs and hits from last year’s Tha Carter III, it was also mired in Wayne’s most recent whims, namely his underwhelming Young Money Crew—made more underwhelming here by the absence of breakout star Drake—and an interest in middling alt-rock, the apparent sound of Wayne’s upcoming album this fall, The Rebirth.

The Young Money Crew was easy to ignore, dropping in for a verse and rolling out, but nearly every song was revamped to fit Wayne’s newfound embrace of rawk. The transformation of well-known skittering beats to recycled butt-rock riffs isn’t as jarring or awful as it sounds, but it wasn’t great either and it didn’t help that right before, Young Jeezy expertly performed a set informed, but not reconfigured, by a live rock band.

Jeezy didn’t throw out the end-of-the-world stomping synths of his albums, he just had a band that tossed-in skronks of horns and slabs of guitar shredding overtop of them. Whammy-bar dangling, Jeezy’s guitarist punctuated “Who Dat”, a snarling beat from last year’s The Recession, with a chunk of strangled guitar, bringing a palpable sense of chaos to a purposefully no-frills, worker-bee rap performance.

And when the live instruments fully took over Jeezy’s set, it was at the end–a kind of coda to the Atlanta rapper’s show. Jeezy’s guitarist stepped forward and approximated Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” which shifted into Jeezy’s Obama-inspired, “My President”. There wasn’t any rapping though, Jeezy thanked the crowd and walked away, letting an instrumental play out, back-up singers howling out the defiant, conflicted chorus: “My president is black/My lambo is blue/And I’ll be godammned if my rims ain’t too”. It was absurd and arrogant and moving all at the same time.

Wayne’s performance was entirely made-up of confusingly awesome stuff like that, bouncing between sensational and stupid and then blurring the line between the two. There were a few moments of stirring clarity, particularly an almost spoken-word (read: respectable) performance of “Let the Beat Build” that seemed to suggest the ease in which Wayne could put on a “good” show, but moments like that gained power precisely because other moments were so transcendently nutty.

He performed “I’m Me” with the word UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE flashing behind him, indulged in an especially raucous mini-suite of mindless raps (“I Run This”, “Always Strapped”) with Cash-Money mentor Birdman, and endlessly two-stepped around the stage, getting the crowd to shout back his nonsense couplets (“I’m a great dane, I wear eight chains!”). The show didn’t make a lot of sense but that hardly matters—Wayne’s adept at making something monumental from a mess.

Written by Brandon

August 22nd, 2009 at 3:55 am