March 2, 2009

What Them Boys and Girls Like

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Maybe it’s just my uptight, white-boy nature. Maybe I set my expectations too high. Or maybe I just haven’t attended the right show. Whatever the case may be, I rarely have had a great experience at a rap concert. From their general chaotic nature to the star’s lack of perceived rehearsal, the rap concert experience usually leaves me with a sense of “so what?” ambivalence (I’m sorry, T-Pain). So when I heard that Ludacris was coming to Ithaca, I admittedly had mixed emotions — knowing that, in spite of my love for his music (Word of Mouf still affectionately holds that singular place in my heart as my first Parental Advisory rap album purchase), somehow the concert experience was inevitably going to let me down.
Much to my surprise, these disappointing feelings rarely arose during the show, as Ludacris played a tight, 70-minute set to a nearly sold-out crowd at Barton Hall on Saturday night. Jam-packed with familiar hits and recent singles off his latest record Theatre of the Mind, Luda stuck to his strengths by remaining faithful to the song’s verses, never wavering into the rampant, nonsensical interludes many rappers feel compelled to include during live performances, particularly at Cornell (I’m looking at you, T.I.). Even when Luda chose to a take a moment to address the crowd of nearly 4,800, he moved briskly, fully aware that the masses were there to hear him rap, not monologue.
However, the night didn’t start off moving so smartly. Billed as “Ludacris with special guest Shawnna,” the show — which was co-sponsored by the Minority Concert Fund Advisory Board and Cornell Concert Commission — predictably kicked off around eight with the Disturbing tha Peace female rapper opening, appeasing the filing-in crowd with her radio singles “Damn” and the far more familiar “Gettin’ Some.” What was surprising about Shawnna’s opening set was that it lasted a mere 10 minutes, as she was gone as quickly as she enthusiastically appeared. After this brief flourish of live music, the ensuing hour or so began to drag, as Luda’s opening DJ did his best to keep the crowd energized by spinning familiar radio hits by Beyonce and M.I.A, promising that Ludacris was only minutes from performing.
Finally, a little after nine in the evening, this promise was delivered, as Mr. Christopher Bridges (aka Ludacris) took the stage. From that point on, the night really began to take off. Opening with a brief medley of hits featuring his Austin-Powers inspired “Number One Spot”, the Atlanta-based rapper quickly keyed up the crowd with an animated call-and-response interlude, followed immediately by a full-throttle performance of his 2 Fast 2 Furious radio hit “Act a Fool.”
[img_assist|nid=35654|title=Get your hands up|desc=Ludacris pumps up the crowd on Saturday night in a sold out show put on by the Minority Concert Fund Advisory Board and the Cornell Concert Commission.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]After a high-energy take on one of his earlier hits, the Pharell-produced gem “Southern Hospitality,” Luda took a moment to speak to the crowd, a move that produced the night’s only awkwardly dull moments. Following an uninspired call-and-response “When I say Luda, you say cris” interval that seemed interminable, the ATL-rapper segued to introduce the set’s next song — his 2001 hit single “Area Codes.” Proudly announcing that “I think we got some 609’s in the house tonight,” Ludacris was shrilly corrected by a drunk girl in the front-row who bluntly clarified Ithaca’s 607 area code. One final moment of hilarity commenced when the rapper asked the crowd “Where all the white people at?”, which was countered with what surely was the loudest roar Luda has ever received from this question.
Nevertheless, once this briefly tedious middle section of the show was past, the remainder of the set sizzled, as Ludacris rattled off fan favorites like “Pimpin’ All Over the World,” “What Them Girls Like,” “Money Maker” and his latest single, “One More Drink,” with succinct ferocity. Even the fleetingly appearing Shawnna returned to the stage once more, accompanying her label boss on his breakthrough hit “What’s Your Fantasy?” which unquestionably received the loudest reception of the night.
All in all, this was undoubtedly the most enjoyable rap concert I have attended. Although Ludacris didn’t bring any unexpected nuances to the show, he expertly delivered his set with swagger and focus, reaffirming his place in the mainstream music scene as one of the most skilled rappers around. While my expectations were surely not set very high, they were gamely exceeded by Mr. Bridges, as I left the concert completely satisfied with what I witnessed and “Splash Waterfalls” still stuck in my head. He may not know have known the Ithaca area code, but, on Saturday night, Ludacris knew how to entertain.