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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Kingston borrows but gives back lots

September 03, 2007|Margaret Wappler | Times Staff Writer

You're the teen prince of the summer's signature song, the kind that has reigned over iTunes, ring tones and MySpace alike, an innocent but cunning confection that's seeped into nearly everyone's consciousness in Doppler form from so many cars blasting it out of souped-up speakers. How do you fill 50 minutes of concert time at the Key Club? How do you satisfy the expectations of your hip-shaking lady fans, who arrive in clingy cotton dresses for the start of a steamy-hot holiday weekend?

If you're Sean Kingston, baby-faced, Miami-born, Jamaica-rooted, clean-collared R&B star behind "Beautiful Girls," you fill your set with other people's hits and keep yourself flanked with a hyperactive duo of MCs.

Maybe it's not the most authentic or bravest strategy, but it worked. Kingston, né Kisean Anderson, samples Led Zeppelin in "Me Love," currently No. 5 on iTunes, and a 1916 chestnut ("Got No Shorty" is a revised "I Ain't Got Nobody") on his wet-behind-the-ears debut. Post-appropriation, post-homage and post-caring about the heft those terms once carried, he simply channels his inspirations like an evangelical minister with his ear to the radio. The crowd of shaking, writhing bodies is all but draped in Pentecostal snakes.

Sometimes the experience felt too close to "Videodrome," David Cronenberg's hallucination on the disturbing powers of TV, except pop radio was the monstrosity here. Every 60 seconds or so, Kingston and his crew launched into another jagged clip of hit-single fever belonging to Timbaland, Timberlake or any number of chart foot soldiers. The result was fun, energy-amping seizures but disorienting nonetheless. The crowd looked to one another for affirmation or cues. Are we partying like rock stars? Are we holding Rihanna's umbrella? Is sexy back? Kingston didn't provide much guidance. He roamed patch after patch of chorus, neither owning nor distancing himself from the songs. His Jamaica-tinged style was lost in the din.

The few times that the concert-radio tuned into Kingston's own work, he was all too humble. Why not show off the crown, while the jewels are still shiny, if only for a laugh? His MCs, with their rousing chants and stage presence, picked up the slack. For "Beautiful Girls," which samples Ben E. King's tinkling doo-wop charm, "Stand By Me," Kingston didn't bother to intone many of the lyrics. Instead, he called up a bevy of Bev Center beauties who easily transformed into a cartoon choir of gangsta molls. It wasn't exactly original but maybe it was right. Borrowing the audience to sing your hit that's about them anyway -- it's the new homage.

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