Jay-Z's first American festival show at Friday's All Points West festival was a hard-rocking, non-stop blizzard of hits, punctuated by tributes to the Beastie Boys and Michael Jackson, and included some exclusive tastes of his upcoming album The Blueprint 3.
After a ghostly clock floating above the stage counted down a solid 10 minutes, Jay-Z burst out of the wings, opening with a cover the Beastie Boys' 1986 mook-rap classic "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." The Beasties, who had previously held Jay-Z's headliner spot, canceled after rapper Adam "MCA" Yauch was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his salivary gland. To pay tribute to an act Jay-Z says made it possible for him to be on that stage, his 10-member band tore through the Rick Rubin arrangement with vicious aplomb; and Jay didn't even rework the line, "They call me Adam Yauch, but I'm MCA."
Somewhat conscious of headlining a festival teeming with rock bands like Tool and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jay-Z's band blasted through recent tracks like "Brooklyn Go Hard" and "U Don't Know" with the chugging, brassy ferociousness of heavy metal — the latter even accompanied by Jumbotron footage of Kurt Cobain smashing his Fender. The classic "Can I Live" was given a gnarly guitar solo and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" was played with more apocalyptic fury than the Linkin Park arrangement. One of his two drummers was even armed with an extra kickdrum that he could whack with sticks, giving a chest-caving thump to Jay-Z's remake of Panjabi MC's "Beware Of The Boys" and a thunderous Adam Ant-style double-drum pummel for "Swagga Like Us."
After a rousing "Izzo (H.O.V.A)," the band went into a full version of the song it samples — the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" — and played along to a recording of young Michael Jackson's vocals. After the song, Jay-Z called Jackson the greatest performer of all time and added, "If you take one thing from this concert, remember this: We don't mourn death, we celebrate life." Michael's spirit loomed large in the set, as Jay even added the line, "Ladies love me long time like MJ's soul" into "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)."
As the concert wound down, Jay erupted into a steady stream of hits. Before launching into one of his fast and furious medleys, Jay-Z stopped to give a taste of a verse from The Blueprint 3. He started off with a single line of something he deemed "too happy" ("I taught niggas fishscale, now they want me to fish for them") and then launching into something a bit moodier ("I ain't talking about profit, I'm taking about pain"). All questions about whether he still has skills, or still runs New York felt like non-issues: Jay-Z was not there to impress, but to prove his worth as an icon like a Bono or Springsteen. Even his nondescript gear — shades and all-black wardrobe — leaked timeless cool.
His post-show banter reached out to members of the audience individually, alternating between flirty ("I see you, babygirl in the pink shirt... You're fine, too!") and funny ("You, homeboy in the tie-dye. Tie Dye?"). A master showman or just a humble dude, he knows that last thing you should remember from a spectacle is something human.
"No Sleep Till Brooklyn"
"Brooklyn Go Hard"
"D.O.A. (Death Of Autotune)"
"U Don't Know"
"My President Is Black (Remix)"
"Beware Of The Boys"
"I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)"
"Show Me What You Got"
"Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)"
"Roc Boys (And The Winner Is)"
"Izzo (H.O.V.A.)"/"I Want You Back"
"Can I Live"
"Swagga Like Us"
"Jigga My Nigga"
"Jigga What, Jigga Who"
"Public Service Announcement (Interlude)"
"Dirt Off Your Shoulder"
"Run This Town"
A verse from The Blueprint 3
Medley: "Money Ain't A Thing"/"La La La (Excuse Me Miss Again)"/"Fiesta(Remix)"/"Where I'm From"/"Feelin' It"
"Can I Get A..."
"Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"