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Lil Wayne and T-Pain @ The United Center, Chicago

Dec. 27, 2009

Dec. 30, 2008
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Nice to see that Lil Wayne invested some of his Tha Carter III profits into his live show. Wayne's concert Saturday night at Chicago's United Center was a pyrotechnical spectacle that owed more to Genesis' vintage, high-concept AV presentations than the typical low-budget, drive-by rap show. Ushered onstage by explosive bursts of fire and smoke, Weezy was backed by a band that hovered above him on glowing, elevating platforms that allowed the players to ascend out of sight when they weren't needed, then dramatically drop from the rafters songs later. It was only fitting that pop's biggest star be backed by equally big arrangements: The band supersized his songs with heavy guitars and proggy excesses—cheap thrills, but effective ones.


Of course none of the spectacle outshone the headliner himself. With a boyish grin that belied his considerable tattoos and a cordial, above-it-all presence more deliberate than his bizarro albums suggest, Wayne was uniformly magnetic, conducting a thorough, 75-minute set that introduced a parade of guests he systematically one-upped. Save for Nicki Manaj, an aggressively coquettish temptress who like her mentor is finding her sea legs over a series of increasingly daring mixtape appearances, his own Young Money proteges were uniformly unimpressive (Gudda Gudda, in particular, has become a punchline). Keri Hilson, a spandex-rocking R&B pop singer that major-label peers have been trying to break for the better part of the decade, did little to distinguish herself, either.


Wayne had the most rapport with co-headliner T-Pain, perhaps because that fellow hitmaker was the only one on the bill with enough star power not to be completely dwarfed by Wayne. For his own set, T-Pain introduced an entire circus, complete with jugglers and fire-eaters, but he seemed to revel in the relatively informality of his guest spots with Wayne, which he spent zipping around the stage on a Segueway scooter. The two debated which had more featured single appearances in 2008—Lil Wayne, according to Wikipedia—and then settled their amiable debate by teasing their "I can't believe this might actually happen" duet album as T-Wayne.


Auto-Tune detractors must have taken particular delight in the show: Even T-Pain, who ignited the pitch-correction fade, downplayed the device, while Lil Wayne skirted it altogether. Maybe Kanye's "Saturday Night Live" debackle ruined it for everybody, or maybe the Vocoder simply ran its course, but either way, it wasn't missed. T-Pain's voice was vibrant and crystalline sans digitalization, and although Wanye isn't nearly as polished a singer, he tapped some serious soul, falling to the floor to croon his chorus from The Game's "My Life." When a voice already has that much character, there's no need to robotize it.


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