Live music is important to me. Sometimes it’s expensive, and money is no excuse for me; not because I have a lot of it, but because music is what I choose to spend it on. Money seems to be a lot of my friends’ excuse, but that just means they have different priorities than me. I’m glad I have surrounded myself with a variety of people with different interests, who spend their money how they see most beneficial to themselves and their community. In the end I’d rather have the friends I have, than a bunch of people with exactly the same interest as me. As they say, opposites don’t necessarily attract, but if you are exactly alike, then one of you is unnecessary.
I couldn’t convince any of my friends via any form of social media or text to go a show with me, so I dropped the dough and went to a Jay Z concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Alone.
Let’s start from the first moment I heard on the radio that Jay was coming to the Palace. It was 92.3 and I probably had just been blushing over Keith Sweat’s bedroom voice. They do this part of his evening show, where lonely middle aged women call into the station and he asks them how their day was and asks them a romantic, but appropriate, question. It ends up being sexy even though they’re talking about mostly mundane things. The fact I went to a Jay Z concert alone pretty much predetermines my fate as one of these lonely middle aged women calling 92.3 to talk to Keith Sweat.
While driving to the Palace for Jay, I listened to Thriller, the album. Just kidding! I listened to “Baby Be Mine” on repeat, because that’s my song. About three miles out from the Palace, traffic was basically standing still, but I didn’t care because I was dancing to Michael Jackson in my seat. I got there, I parked. Did you know they charge for parking too? I didn’t. At this point I had spent over $55 on Jay Z’s concert and I hadn’t even parked yet. #whatever
I’m walking from my car to the entrance and a group of five men approach me, of which at least two have braces and three are wearing khakis. “Why are you walking alone? I bet you got 16 friends in there waiting for you.” “Nope.” “YOU’RE SITTIN’ WITH US!” I walked spritely to the nearest women’s bathroom.
Take note, gentlemen who enjoy speaking to females: Saying, “Would you like to sit with us?” is much better than “YOU’RE SITTIN’ WITH US!” Give the girl the chance to say no, my brethren. This way she does not have to run to the nearest area designated for women only in order to shake you off.
This was my first concert at a big arena like the Palace. I frantically texted my friends about how excited I was. As I sat there in the upper bowl, gazing at the Piston flags hanging from the ceiling, a part of me wished that my first experience at the Palace had been a Piston’s game.
There were basically two kinds of people at this show: people being totally themselves and interacting with their friends, and people constantly looking around trying to be noticed by others. People walking to their seats said excuse me to the first kind of people, and the second kind were groped as others squeezed past them in the isle.
I’m happy that I was sitting between two people who knew lyrics to every song. The guy on my left, about my age, kept his coat on, sat most of the time and recited what he knew. The man to my right in Detroit Lions get-up from head to toe, older than me, stood the entire time, smoked a joint, and rapped along like it was his job. He also video taped whatever he found most interest in, narrating the show for whoever he was going to share the video with. I stood, danced, and recited a bit of what I knew. I didn’t recite all of what I knew, because it’s not my place to stand there and recite Jay Z’s experience back to Jay Z. Sometimes the best and most honest role a snowflake can play is to simply listen. You don’t have to prove yourself. You don’t have to “earn” your place listening to hip-hop. You don’t have to show off that you can dance, and you don’t have to stand with an awkward curve at the base of your spine in an attempt to make your butt look bigger than it actually is. Jay busted out laughing when he said “twerk Miley twerk,” and the musicians cut out the music because he was falling behind on the form due to his own laughter. You don’t have to appropriate black culture. You are allowed to just do you, and listen to the music.
My apologies to any snowflakes that I may have just riled up and made defensive.
I tried to hear as much of the man on my right’s narration as possible. I don’t know Jay’s music as well as many of the audience members there do. I do know that in 10 years, I’d kick myself for not seeing this tour. The week before the show I listened to as much Jay Z as possible, and decided just to absorb as much of the experience as I could while I was there.
A few questions went through my mind as I watched this spectacle of a concert, with lights that reminded me of both
How could this man just stand there, at most walking a bit from side to side, keep the entire audience engaged? Many women who perform at the same caliber as him, (i.e. his wife) have to also be able to dance in costume. I dare Beyonce to perform an entire concert in an arena, just sitting on a stool at the front of the stage, in jeans and a t-shirt, and allow herself and her band to have zero choreography. No sarcasm intended, I bet the audience would still love that performance and adore the courage it takes to strip away the spectacle from a presentation.
I gotta give it to Jay though, he did have a costume change. He switched his hat to be forward facing and he added 6 more gold chains around his neck about ¾ of the way through the show. During that time, Timbaland performed a few numbers but the audience gradually lost interest in Timbaland’s interlude. However, when the close-up cams focused on Timbaland’s hands, I felt relieved that he was only using two fingers to play the keyboard. Even I can do that! Getting a degree in music was worth that piano lab!
At the beginning of every one of Jay’s songs, the audience gave an excited shout, as folks usually do when “their song” comes up. And, after each of those shouts Jay would say “I’ve got a million of these!” and then, everyone would scream at the intro to the next song and he’d repeat “I told you! I got a million of these!” The audience was reacting to old songs from Reasonable Doubt, all the way to newer songs like “N***** in Paris” and “Holy Grail.”
The amount of power that I was witnessing was unlike anything I’d seen before. There were thousands of people, reciting every word of his work along with him. That’s incredible to witness.
Thousands of people, in one place, reciting the entire canon of one man’s work.
It’s not like that only happened once, it happens everywhere this man goes. Music is a powerful, powerful (have I said that word enough?) source of information and unity. As Erykah said, “Hip-hop. It’s bigger than religion.”
What if a group of thousands of people could stand in one place and recite the work of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Steve Biko or Zora Neale Hurston? What if he had dedicated his performance to Toussaint Louverture, Malcolm X or Mumia Abu-Jamal instead of Nelson Mandela? These questions eventually lead back to the Harry Belafonte debacle.
I saw Harry Belafonte speak on MLK day, and he spoke for over an hour. He mentioned calling upon Jay Z & Mos Def for social action. Through connecting with Belafonte, these hip-hop megastars are going to perform a benefit concert on Father’s Day this year, dedicated to cultivating consciousness about violence against women. I ask the blogging community to stop criticizing Jay Z using Belafonte’s words. Somewhere amidst this outburst, our community failed to recognize that Jay and Belafonte are actually working together to bring about the consciousness of a global injustice.
Near the very end of Jay’s concert at the Palace, he told the tech crew to put the lights on in the house, and he surveyed his audience. He had the close-up camera crew zoom in on folks with “detroit vs everybody” and “detroit hustles harder” shirts. He thanked us for welcoming him to our city and asked us permission to perform “Empire State of Mind.” He gave shout outs to people who he noticed could rap along with every word throughout the concert. He showed love to every section of the audience and gracefully thanked everyone who was there. He genuinely smiled through most of his performance, and spent as much time as he could just talking with the audience, telling stories between songs and telling security that they were allowed to party too. In the more relaxed moments of the show, I felt like the venue was infinitely smaller, where storytelling comes with territory. As far away from the stage that I was, I still felt warm and welcome there. I felt close to the music, and left knowing Jay a bit better than I did when I arrived.
Until next time,
Head-nod friends, head-nod