There was no way to forget where you were on 9/28/12, not if you were in the Barclays Center 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 cap and jersey (number 4, of course, “CARTER”), and people were eating food from Fatty ‘Cue and Nathan’s and drinking beer—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’s that saying? “Every generation gets the heroes it deserves”? 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. In his words, “I’ve performed at the Grammys, I did Glastonbury, I tore Coachella up. Nothing feels like tonight.” Maybe Jay-Z’s reaction to feeling “overwhelmed” was to retreat inside of himself and go through his playlist, perform well, but not on the inspired, energized, once-in-a-lifetime level everyone wanted to see.
The energy level of the crowd was high anyway, even before they entered the building. And it took a while to enter the building because we all had to snake through metal detectors, which would have been a downer if the people who work at the Barclays Center weren’t so nice. 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, 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.)
But despite metal detectors, kegs running dry, and long, LONG lines at the food counters, the crowd was psyched 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 bullshitty, but trust me—you can watch short films of the guys from Tri-Lox while you’re waiting on line to get food. Tri-Lox! That’s some obscure Brooklyn design shit for a major sports arena.
Before Jay came out, the stage flashed an orgy of Brooklyn greats—the Dodgers, Adam Yauch, Biggie. And this was just the beginning of the nonstop stroking of the Brooklyn ego, which was just waiting for the climax of Jay-Z’s performance. But what kind of a climax would it be? One of those great, totally satisfying kinds? Explosive in its perfection? Or one of those disappointing anti-climaxes, with a ton of build-up that just then kind of fades out? Well, sadly, it was the latter. Despite the shout-outs to Brooklyn, the Marcy Houses, Bruce Ratner (yup), and the Dodgers, it kind of all felt performed by rote, lacking the energy, the spontaneity, that the crowd craved.