After storming onto the renovated Palladium stage with “Say Hello,” Jay-Z acknowledged the historic nature of his perf, commenting that the venerable ballroom opened up in 1940 with a show by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra. “I like to think I’m the Sinatra of today,” the New York-based rapper-label exec-entrepreneur mused. “If he was ‘Old Blue Eyes,’ I’m ‘Old Brown Eyes.’ ” And he spent the next 90 minutes proving that was no idle boast, delivering a blistering, hit-laden perf that had the sold-out house rocking from the glittering chandeliers to the still-sticky dance floor.
With a 12-piece band (including special guest DJ AM on laptop, making his first appearance since the plane crash that seriously injured him and Travis Barker) laying down muscular grooves, Jay chanted his tensely coiled raps, often trading off with his onstage foil, Memphis Bleek. The evening was a celebration and Jay-Z — whose choice to open the room has to be seen as the first manifestation of his $150 million deal with promoters Live Nation — got the crowd going with a solid selection of his hits, including his most recent “Swagga Like Us,” featuring T.I. in the evening’s lone guest appearance, and “99 Problems” which was performed as an AC/DC mashup.
Just as impressive as the perf was the new, quite spiffy Palladium. Decked out with new carpets and freshly painted, the refurbished marquee and a circular ceiling return the room to its original look; the venerable venue is certainly swank. For the opening at least, the prison-like security searches have become a thing of the past (and how often are you patted down by a man wearing white gloves and a tux?). And most importantly the sound is much improved. There was still some boominess on the low end (although this is a problem at most live hip-hop shows) but the vocals were audible and the mix was crisp and clear, without the muddy echo that was the most prominent feature of the old Palladium.
Jay-Z made the case that he is by far the most exciting performer in hip-hop today. Most impressively, in the course of a few songs, he managed to touch on all the strands of hip-hop styles, from the party music of its earliest days (“Excuse Me Miss” and his constant demands for the aud to “bounce”), the bling-laden modern rap (“Blue Magic,” performed with a video featuring luxury cars and E500 notes) and the “Black CNN” of Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” (the politically charged “Public Service Announcement” and his impassioned post-Katrina protest “Minority Report,” the latter performed a capella).