This week’s events at Carnegie Hall include concerts by The Carmina Burana Choral Project, the string-pulling children of the Great Neck Music Conservatory, Mario Prisuelos on piano, and – somehow, unbelievably – two performances by Jay-Z, marking the first time a rapper has headlined the hallowed space. Just as groundbreaking, possibly: if there has ever been a Carnegie Hall after-party, it has been at a place like the Upper East Side’s Hotel Carlyle (where Woody Allen quietly plays clarinet on a weekly basis), not at Hov’s 40/40 Club, a shimmering clubhouse with twenty-carat gold baseball bats and $650 bottles of champagne lining the walls. So, last night, two milestones were set.
Or maybe three! Last night marked the first time Beyoncé had been out in public since having her baby in semi-public just one month ago. Her rust-colored dress, rouched by Temperley London, hugged her every curve. As soon as she (and Tina, her mother) walked into the VIP area, a huge crowd formed, her beauty magnetic, her presence irresistible: a kid – just out of college, holding a Heineken – tried to hug her, only for security to brush him off like nothing, a piece of lint. She spent much of the night talking to Roc Nation’s Rich Kleiman; Nas sat between her and Jay, the two men in tuxedos, sharing buffalo wings and Ace of Spades. (The scene was not dissimilar to their Roc Boys music video, only the pair was not spotted doing anything resembling a cool/complicated handshake.)
Jay-Z said that in creating his club, he wanted a place where he and his friends could just hang out, and that’s what last night was. (40/40 tends to have the effect of a fishbowl, where people watch more famous people have quiet, involved conversations for extended periods of time.) Before settling into the banquette, Jay walked around, unrushed, by himself, his bowtie a little floppy. He did stop and take pictures with a 10-year-old fan and his mother, laughing as she forgot how to use her camera. All around, highlights of the Knicks game – a rare winning streak; a third milestone? – played on huge screens. Steve Stoute and Angie Martinez slid their way into Jay’s section; John Meneilly wandered the not-so-crowded room. Young Guru, Jay’s longtime engineer, stopped in for a moment before heading back down to the DJ booth, where he and Terry Urban were spinning. BET’s Stephen Hill nodded hello to everyone and anyone, while dressed in a purple crushed velvet tuxedo. As “Big Pimpin” played, two blonde girls rapped. A couple of feet and one glass partition away, Jay-Z did not.
Overall, there was this sense that something big had happened. Roc Nation signee Melanie Fiona, after hugging Beyoncé, could not believe what she had seen, earlier in the night: “I was sitting three rows in front of Liza Minelli! It was fucking amazing! The symphony onstage? Fucking amazing! And they were really hip-hop with it, you know? Like, they were bobbing their heads, stabbing the notes. I’m looking back at Liza like, you believe this?”
After having told her that I didn’t see the show, she said, “It’s one of those shows that, if I missed it, I would’ve been pissed.”