Artist(s): The Throne (Jay-Z and Kanye West)
Date: December 5th, 2011
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
I've always wondered why anyone would pay $200 for a concert ticket. I concede that I'm taking this stance from a position of privilege, since I never have to pay for tickets. I don't know why, that's just the way it is. Still, $200? Anyway, I was lucky enough to watch two of the greatest performers of any genre, Jay-Z and Kanye West, occupy the same stage. I saw everything that night except a dancing unicorn.
I saw Andre Johnson at the bar. I saw Arian Foster. I saw Johnny Dang in a beige suit 11 times his size. I saw a friendly Asian kid scoff at the idea of a photo op with Johnny Dang. "Who the hell wants to take a picture with Johnny Dang?" he laughed. "That sh-t cray."
I now know what a $13 margarita tastes like and would like my money back, please. Precisely, I now know what a $13 margarita that required a 30-minute wait tastes like. I waited so long that the friendly Asian kid who laughed at Johnny Dang stepped in and politely urged the bartender who had a round face like a baby's that I had been waiting since, like, forever, and it would be nice if the bartender, whom I'll now christen Baby Face, would kindly consider taking my order at some point. I was fine with the wait until Baby Face finally agreed to take my order ten minutes after all of Houston begged him to do so and casually reemerged with a large glass of water.
"What's this?" I asked, befuddled beyond words.
"So you didn't want water?"
"Hey man, why would I wait 30 minutes for water?"
I witnessed as Baby Face shook his head over and over and poured some stuff into a plastic cup, mixing up my margarita, muttering gibberish.
I missed the opening song, but I could hear "H.A.M." blasting out of the building. I made it back to my seat just in time for the second song, "Who Gon' Stop Me."
I saw Toyota Center do things I didn't know it was capable of doing. I saw it magically produce two ginormous cube-shaped platforms from nowhere. I saw Jay-Z and Kanye West mount each cube tentatively as the giant cubes rose slowly to about 25 feet in the sky. Holy Smokes. Don't fall, dudes.
I saw metronomic bursts of flames the size of Bow Wow, some of them perfectly timed to coincide with the bass during "P.S.A." and the word "power" during "Power." I saw stock footage of a soaring eagle and a winking tiger. I saw a jungle cat chase, catch, and kill its prey during "Welcome to the Jungle." I saw a closeup shot of that one Klan baby from True Blood's title sequence staring creepily into the camera while Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" played in the background.
I saw a man in a Watch the Throne shirt, dark shades and leather gloves emulate Kanye's every move, hand isometrics and all. I saw boots in every color. I saw derrieres that looked Photoshopped. I saw a graying man wave a white towel over his head and dance like crazy. I saw a woman stretch out her hands and circle them as if trying to hug some imaginary pillow. I saw a man reach down and touch a stranger to inquire if her jacket was, indeed, of the Margiela kind during "N---as in Paris." I saw 19,000 people throw up the diamond simultaneously.
I saw the understated look of exasperation on Kanye's face when he rebuked the lighting technician ("You just gon' turn on that one light strip? Just that one? I want them to see all of it") and restarted the same song three times so Houston could see: "All of the Lights."
And smiles. For some, this was a first and it was a night full of rewarding, warm feelings; a rush of lightning, a jolt of joy that produced streetlights from their lips.
The first half was, among many things, modest. A worn look on Kanye's face reminded us that they've been touring this thing for a minute. Houston was their 17th stop in 36 days. But like a plane approaching lift off, they found a burst of energy as the show progressed. Kanye, in particular, mustered enough vigor to sprint from one end of the stage to the other while performing his 2006 hit, "Touch the Sky," which made me think of the childlike excitement that colored his first two albums.
The second half was live craft expertise at its finest. Throughout, Jay and Ye played musical chairs with the stage, taking turns putting their hits on display, making it easy to juxtapose their hit-making abilities. Jay sends the crowd in a frenzy with "Jigga What." Yeezy comes back with "Can't Tell Me Nothing." Hov thrills with "Empire State of Mind." Ye responds with "Jesus Walks." And so on.
Favorite moment: was when the pair sat on the stoop for "New Day." Jay took off his Yankee hat for this one. Sweat trickled down his temple, his face imbuing every line with raw emotion. "My dad left me and I promise to never repeat him. Never repeat him," rapped the proud poppa who seemed like he was fighting back tears.
Other favorite moment: was seeing them play hype men for each other, Jay saying "That ain't right" to Yeezy's gripe about a shady ex on "Gold Digger," and 'Ye returning the favor by playing cop to Hov's smartass crook on "99 Problems." They're clearly fans of each other's stuff. And two of them together made for a two-hour delight, poetry and music in every word and motion.
Style: was interesting. Kanye donned a leather quilt-pants combo that looked like a gift from Willow Smith. Jay wore black jeans and a Yankee hat. Each rocked a WTT shirt with "JZ" inscribed on the right sleeve and "KW" on the left.Setting: was spectacular. Had a large stage for the joint performances. Had two huge cube-shaped platforms, which raised and lowered and flashed images of sharks and pitbulls at various points of the show, for solo sets. Had flame bursts shooting up toward the ceiling. Had Entrapment-esque lasers and sine waves. Had two huge screens that showed clips of wolves, lions, birds, people, including Martin Luther King Jr. during Ye's verse on "Made in America" and Malcolm X during Jay's portion of the same song.
Number of times they went gorillas: Five. After the fourth rendition of Watch the Throne standout, "N---as in Paris," Jay-Z invited everyone to the front of the stage for one big, final celebration. A lady threw a gold shoe at the stage. Kanye picked it up, smiled and said, "Baby, we gotta get you your shoe back" as he returned it. Then someone threw a joint. Then another. Oh, Houston.
By the end, it was clear that the point wasn't to create a $200 experience. It was about creating an indelible memory. For two hours and thirty minutes, 19,000 people seemed to be floating all at once. You can't get that feeling on layaway.
- "Who Gon' Stop Me"
- "Gotta Have It"
- "Welcome to the Jungle"
- "Lift Off"
- "Where I'm From"
- "U Don't Know"
- "Diamonds (Remix)"
- "Run This Town"
- "Jigga What"
- "Can't Tell Me Nothing"
- "Flashing Lights"
- "All of the Lights"
- "That's My B---h"
- "Murder to Excellence"
- "New Day"
- "Made in America"
- "Jesus Walks"
- "All Falls Down"
- "Touch the Sky"
- "Good Life"
- "Big Pimpin'"
- "N---as in Paris" (x5)