For better and worse, the I Am Music II tour – actually an extension of the I Am Music tour that ended in May of this year – follows in the grand tradition of most Hollywood sequels: it takes what worked the first time around, and tries to make it even bigger, with mixed results.
The original I Am Music tour centered around three larger-than-life personas – Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, and, of course, Lil Wayne. Though this leg of the tour actually features five acts (with Lloyd, Far East Movement, and Keri Hilson replacing the indomitable Minaj), it might have been more prudent to just stick with the two carry-overs from the tour’s first phase. The way the crowd in Hartford bumrushed the stage when Rick Ross’ backdrop started getting raised, you’d think he was the actual headliner. Ross was forced to employ the same sort of bare-bones set-up as the other openers, but a larger-than-life guy like Ross doesn’t need dancers or extra musicians; Rozay is his own light show. With just him and a DJ on stage, Ross just hit the highlights one after another (including “B.M.F.,” “MC Hammer,” and the current #1 R&B single in the land, “I’m On One”) and the crowd ate up every one of them.
The reason for the spartan stage set-ups for the openers came clear once the spotlights revealed what Weezy had on stage: a massive piece of scaffolding big enough to hold the DJ booth, the drummer, a walkway, stairs, and 15 projection screens (three screens high, five wide) that could slide up and down. One such screen slid up to reveal Lil Wayne as his live band – guitar, bass, the works – kicked off The Carter III‘s “3Peat.” Wayne hit the ground running, bouncing all over his discography (official and otherwise), and ripping into favorites like “A Milli,” “Pop That Pussy” and “Go DJ” with spirited abandon. Early on, he made sure to tell the crowd that “I ain’t shit without you,” and his performance clearly spoke to that. The fact that he was giving fans versions of these tracks that would’ve fit in with his divisive rock-friendly effort Rebirth didn’t matter one bit.
However, when an appearance by Young Money artist Shannel (playing the role of Kelly Rowland in “Motivation”) turned into a two-song Weezy-free Shannel showcase, the set lost some of its shine. (Weezy claiming, upon his return, that Shannel’s solo turn was “hot shit” didn’t help; you could hear eyes roll when he said that.) This little setback didn’t keep Lil Wayne from working his ass off, though it might’ve been better if he didn’t work quite so hard. When he stuck to keeping things simple and just spitting rhymes, the crowd was right where he wanted them – a two-song cameo from Birdman (with recent singles “Fire Flame” and “Money To Burn” in tow) was a late-set highlight, as was a run through Young Money’s “Bed Rock.” When he went from rapper to entertainer, however – bringing out a mic stand & stool for “How To Love,” cavorting with his back-up dancers during “Mrs. Officer” – the efforts were more admirable than enjoyable. Wayne spent most of the set’s second half trying to find a balance between these two modes, but never quite got there. By the time he strapped on a guitar and vaguely soloed during a pyrotechnical show-stopping production of Rebirth‘s “Runnin’,” what previously felt exhilarating quickly turned exhausting, and transformed a showcase for “one of the best things to ever happen to music” (Weezy’s words) into a rote thesis defense.