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Jay-Z and Kanye West at BankAtlantic Center, November 14

Jay-Z and Kanye West at BankAtlantic Center, November 14
Photo by Sayre Berman

Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Watch the Throne" Tour
BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
Monday, November 14, 2011

For a slide show from the concert, click here.

Better than: The "Best of Both Worlds" tour.

Jay-Z got pulled over in Sunrise, Florida, on Monday night. Fortunately, the rap mogul and the eventual father of Beyoncé's child kept a cool head under a Yankees cap that had a brim made out of some sort of dead animal and talked his way out of the situation. The infraction? "Doin' 55 in a 54," according to the arresting officer, who looked to be part of some Roman goth secret police based upon his outfit -- a leather fustan around his waist, tight black pants, a dark jacket that appeared to have a swirls of oil paint on it, and black high-tops with glow-in-the-dark soles. If there's any doubt what was going on, Hova and Kanye West's "Watch the Throne" tour washed the BankAtlantic Center's mouth out with luxurious soap last night.

Between the two rap legends, Jay-Z is far-and-above the better performer. He's got the supreme rap catalog at his fingertips, and even as a 41-year-old, he's still got the "Big Pimpin'" breath control and stamina to go it alone onstage without a hype man. "On to the Next One," which was the 26th song of the relentless night, proved his dominance. Far from being Jay-Z's most popular single -- that statue goes to "Empire State of Mind" in spades -- the rapper hoisted "On To" onto another plateau by, one, literally standing on a giant green cube slowly rising skyward with his silhouette projected on its sides, and, two, delivering the song's message of constant innovation over a booming Swizz Beatz track like he was doing work on something new as we watched.

Jay-Z and Kanye West at BankAtlantic Center, November 14
Photo by Sayre Berman

But the great ones can only be great by surrounding themselves with other greats. Watch the Throne, as a concept, an album, and a tour, could have happened only with Kanye West playing cop on "99 Problems" and running through his sterling-silver collection of songs so that Jay could get an extra breath. It's Kanye West who loves making elaborate stage diagrams -- in this case, a pair of LED-covered cubes that could rise high enough to give folks in the nosebleeds a proper view and more lasers than a Catherine Zeta-Jones movie -- and it's Kanye West who loves putting things like birds of prey flying majestically on two Times Square-sized HD monitors behind the main stage, as he did to hilarious effect during "Touch the Sky."

Seeing these two interact onstage was a little like a couple of sparring partners in dramatically different weight classes. Here are "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" and "PSA":


 

After 'Ye famously fucked up his chance to tour with Lady Gaga a few years ago, this album and tour was much more of a risk for the business-minded Shawn Carter. West and Gaga -- contrarian performers who need attention on their own freaky terms -- were likely too similar to settle on an artistic direction. Since Jay-Z could be rapping on top of a pile of horse manure and still kill, he could probably cede enough of the creative aspects of this endeavor to make it a reality.

Jay-Z and Kanye West at BankAtlantic Center, November 14
Photo by Sayre Berman

And even the awkwardest portions of the evening -- Kanye doing a lagging "Heartless" on top of a devil-red cube in the center of the arena, Kanye bitching about losing his voice on the flight amid a long version of "Runaway," and Kanye restarting "All of the Lights" twice before the proper stage lighting was reached -- didn't diminish what was intended to be the greatest live hip-hop experience in history. No protégés, no dancers, no drum solos, no bullshit banter -- just some futuristic art rap to justify the hundreds of dollars many folks in the building had to part with.

It takes a lot of stones to perform a song twice in a row, but three times at the end of a set night after night? That song had better be as sick and relevant and crowd-pleasing (and "cray") as the duo's current hit, "Niggas in Paris." And it was.

Critic's Notebook

Overheard: "How many songs did they play tonight?" "40." "They played 50!"

The crowd: Porn stars (literally), video hoochies, Janelle Monae look-alikes, a jilted dude holding some flowers intended for someone else, a lot of members of the 1 percent.

Personal bias: This was on par with seeing Jay-Z perform on a pier in Manhattan a few years ago.

By the way: A lot of people have a lot less eyebrow hair after experiencing the constant plumes of flame belching from the stage.

Set List
H.A.M.
Who Gon Stop Me
Otis (with "Try a Little Tenderness" intro)
Welcome to the Jungle
Gotta Have It
Where I'm From
Nigga What? Nigga Who?
Can't Tell Me Nothin'
Flashing Lights
Through the Wire
Jesus Walks
Diamonds From Sierra Leone
PSA
U Don't Know
Run this Town
Monster
Power
Made in America
New Day
Hard Knock Life
Izzo
Empire State of Mind
Runaway
Heartless
Stronger
On to the Next One
Dirt Off Your Shoulders
I Just Wanna Love U
That's My Bitch
Good Life
Touch the Sky
All of the Lights
Big Pimpin'
Gold Digger
99 Problems
No Church in the Wild
Lift Off
Niggas in Paris
Niggas in Paris

Encore:
Niggas in Paris
Encore


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