Most of the reviews from the Jay Z tour mention him playing to a packed house. What we learned this week is that his rap kingdom doesn't extend to Pittsburgh, at least not at that price on a frigid Tuesday night in January.
The top level of the Consol Energy Center was curtained and plenty of good seats were available in the $100 range below when the rap king from Brooklyn hit the stage just after 9 p.m. with "U Don't Know."
Like his last stop here with Kanye West on "Watch the Throne," there was no opening act, just an hour wait for the crowd of about 6,000 for his majesty to arrive.
Although he's one of the industry's biggest and wealthiest stars, Jay hasn't bought in, literally, to the concept of the modern arena show, like some of his closest associates (Beyonce and Kanye included). The Magna Carter Tour was an old-school, stripped-down affair, 180-degrees from his partner Justin Timberlake's lavish spectacle here last month.
Jay, coming out in one of the cooler biker jackets you'll see before tossing it after one song, did his work on a multi-tiered stage holding a super loud bassist, drummer, keyboardist and beatmaker Timbaland. With no ramps, dancers, high-tech screens or flying contraptions, there was little to distract us from his raw stage bravado and fluid rhymes, running the gamut from thug life to the fine points of art collecting.
He built his tremendous fortune ... on the backs of the working class... no, with his natural, relaxed style to go with the likable persona on display throughout. He's big on eye contact, and you could see him connecting with individual fans as he went.
He wasn't shy about "Magna Carta ... Holy Grail," filling the first half of the set with songs like the staccato "Beach is Better," "Crown" and the hit "Holy Grail," with JT and Nirvana helping from afar.
"I like where we at right now, but I have the suspicion we could take it higher," he said, introducing the slamming Rick Rubin police-profiling track "99 Problems," which shifted into a faster gear midway through on the way to "Picasso Baby, putting Hova safe at home in a "house like The Louvre."
He rode that momentum into early fave "Dead Presidents II" (with a high-five moment for the freestyle fans) and "No Church in the Wild" before turning the stage over to the Timbaland club mix. He came back plowing through the greatest hits: "Big Pimpin'," Jigga What, Jigga Who," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder."
"Oh, I got a million of these," he said. No exaggeration.
He threw out an invitation to arena anarchy on "N----s in Paris," telling security to "stand down" while the crowd climbs on seats and fills the aisles. It didn't get too crazy -- you know, Tuesday night -- but the energy surge carried the set to its finish with the new "Tom Ford," "Public Service Announcement," "Clique" and "Run This Town."
He launched the encore with "Encore," opening up his loose chat session. He talked to fans, read their signs, got them on the screen to dance or twerk, posed for a picture. He did draw a few lines: no one up to rap (it would be "corny") and no selfies. In one of his better lines of the night, he told a fan, "Do I look like a selfie kind of [n-word]?"
As for the crowd size, it didn't bother him at all. He was in good spirits all night and, rolling through "Empire State of Mind," "Izzo," "Hard Knock Life" and "Young Forever" (dedicated to Nelson Mandela), he seemed determined to send everyone out into the cold happy and uplifted.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg. First Published January 21, 2014 11:16 PM