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It takes two to Tango

Kanye West and Mary J. Blige show how it's done at KIIS-FM's four-hour blowout in Irvine, while newcomer Ne-Yo shows promise.

May 08, 2006|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

Radio station-sponsored concerts are a lot like an evening at the movies where all you see are trailers. That's not a bad thing as long as you remember going in not to expect anything with a beginning, middle and end, or anything remotely resembling a coherent plot.

That was certainly the case at Wango Tango on Saturday in Irvine, but it was suspended long enough in the right places to put this year's edition a cut above the typical radio concert plugfest.

The happy exceptions were relatively extended performances from Kanye West and Mary J. Blige that gave the rapturous capacity crowd enough time to become immersed in their music. And because both artists bring far more substance to their music than most of the hit-makers who turned up at the KIIS-FM (102.7) show, they brought some meat to what was otherwise a celebration of cotton candy. The impact was that much more concentrated in a four-hour evening at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, instead of the all-day stadium affair it's been in years past.

Blige was on the prowl in her 40-minute segment, the only act in the nine-performer lineup who sang with a full band behind her rather than over recorded tracks. She hopscotched among such early hits as "What's the 411?" and "My Life" to songs from her latest album, "The Breakthrough," most offering solace and support to anyone who's been through tough times, using the drama in her own life as a illustrative case in point.

It had been barely a week since West performed at Coachella, but he bounded through another electrifying set for Wango Tango's largely young and female audience. He came out blazing, opening with the titanic "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," then stretched what was scheduled to be a 30-minute set into 40, with an unspoken "try to stop me" energy infusing every song. When he got around to "Gold Digger," he began using the G-rated radio edit, but by the end gave in and allowed the crowd to sing along on its signature N-word hook.

West was followed by Daddy Yankee, but the reggaeton star showed none of the dimensions of West and Blige, content with providing dance-minded party music. The best thing about his monochromatic sound was the speed-of-light rapping, calling to mind DJ Quik, that he occasionally let fly.

Of the six support acts, singer-songwriter Ne-Yo (real name: Shaffer Smith) is the one most likely to develop an artistically significant career. He's a compelling performer in the silky-sexy Usher mold whose debut album, "In My Own Words," includes enough highlights to sustain a show considerably longer than the 25 minutes he got on Saturday, where he followed even quicker sets from Rihanna, Baby Bash, Nick Cannon, Natasha Bedingfield and Ray J.

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