This is all about Brooklyn tonight.
What's up NYC?
Tonight is a celebration, a celebration of where I'm from.
It's Brooklyn in the house.
There was no way to forget where you were on Friday night, not if you were in the Barclays Center like I was, watching Jay-Z take the stage for the first of his eight shows. This was Brooklyn. Brooklyn was everywhere. On stage, Jay wore a Nets hat and jersey (number 4, of course, "CARTER") and people were eating food from Fatty Cue and Nathan's and drinking Stella—when they could get it, that is, lots of the kegs near the floor seats were empty an hour before the show even started. Which was frustrating, sure, but it didn't really matter because there was always another place to get beer, another line to stand on, another middle-aged dude with a cell-phone holster wearing a brand-new "Ball So Hard" t-shirt, partially tucked into his belted jeans, to snicker at. Yeah, we were definitely in Brooklyn.
What is that saying? "Every generation gets the heroes it deserves"? Or something like that? Well, I think that maybe every generation gets the Jay-Z it deserves. And the Jay-Z we got on the first night of his Barclays Center performances was notable for shouting out to a lot of past glories and talking a lot about the promise of the future, but also for seeming a little bit subdued in the present. Not that Jay claimed to feel out of sorts. No, in his words, "I've performed at the Grammys, I did Glastonbury, I tore Coachella up. Nothing feels like tonight." And maybe that was true. Maybe Jay-Z's reaction to feeling "overwhelmed" was just to retreat inside of himself a bit and go through his playlist, perform well, but not on the inspired, energized, once-in-a-lifetime level that everyone wanted to see.
Not that it mattered, exactly. The energy level of the crowd was high and wild, even before entering the building. And it took a while to enter the building because we all had to snake through metal detectors to get into the arena, which could have been a bit of a downer if all of the people working at the Barclays Center weren't so completely nice and friendly. It seems like the training they received from Disney Hospitality really paid off, because they were considerate and did their best to move everyone along. Still though, one person on line did remark, "I wonder if everyone at the Leonard Cohen concert will have to go through this bullshit." Okay. That was me. I said that. And I do wonder that!
But despite metal detectors, kegs running dry, and long, LONG lines at the food counters, the crowd was intensely excited to see Jay-Z and to check out the Barclays Center. Done mainly in blacks and grays, the arena seems to be drawing a lot aesthetically from contemporary Brooklyn design. I know that sounds kind of bullshitt-y, but trust me, you can watch short films of the guys from Tri-Lox while you're waiting on line to get your food. Tri-Lox! That's some obscure Brooklyn design stuff for a major sports arena. The really notable thing about the Barclays Center, though, is that the seating in the arena doesn't incline at as gentle of a grade as it does at, say, Madison Square Garden. Instead, it ascends at what seems, from the floor, to be an almost straight vertical slope, which is an impressive look, if somewhat (totally) vertigo-inducing for the more delicate amongst us. That's me by the way. I'm super-delicate.
Anyway. Luckily, I was sitting low enough on the floor that I didn't need to worry about collapsing into a quivering heap of FEAR. So, I could enjoy the show. Which, leading up to Jay-Z, certainly seemed to enjoy itself. Before Jay came out, the stage flashed an orgy of Brooklyn greats—from the long-lamented Brooklyn Dodgers, to Adam Yauch, to Biggie—it felt like everyone was represented. And this was just the beginning of the non-stop stroking of the Brooklyn ego, which was just waiting for the climax of Jay-Z's performance.
But what kind of a climax was it? Was it one of those great, totally satisfying kinds? Explosive in its perfection? Or was it one of those disappointing, anti-climaxes, with a ton of lead-up that just then kind of fades out? Well, sadly, it was kind of the latter. Despite all the shout-outs to Brooklyn, the Marcy Houses, Bruce Ratner (yup) and the Dodgers, it kind of all felt rote and lacked the spontaneity and energy that the crowd wanted. I mean, it was great that Jay did a tribute to Biggie, but, well, I WANTED A HOLOGRAM. That would have been awesome. That would have been EXCITING. Instead, it was just Biggie's face on a silk cloth. So, yeah, nothing new to see here, folks.
Personally, I was most excited by the appearance of Big Daddy Kane and his dancers, Scoob Lover and Scrap Lover, who came out during the encore and danced like it was 1995. It made me realize a couple of things, one of which is that Big Daddy Kane is not that young anymore but can still almost do a split, but another was that Jay-Z just doesn't move that much when he's on stage by himself. Which is fine, I guess, it's just not his thing. But since it was just him up there for almost the whole two hour show, the energy level never reached the heights that it could have if he had tried to physically engage us, or do anything more than assure the crowd that we were all "geniuses" who just needed to "find our genius" and run with it.
As I walked out of the Barclays Center that night, I told my friend (I'll call him En Fuego) "That's not true, you know. At all. Most people aren't geniuses." I mean, Jay-Z is a genius. What he has accomplished in his life is unparalleled. But I guess I wish he could do a split too. Even geniuses are disappointing sometimes.
And if he brings out a Biggie hologram at one of these other shows? I'm going to be PISSED.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen