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Jay-Z fills big shoes

October 17, 2008|Margaret Wappler | Times Staff Writer

Greeted by 4,000 fans holding up their hands in the shape of a diamond, Jay-Z took the stage Wednesday night at the newly remodeled Hollywood Palladium, the landmark facility that had been shuttered for the last year to undergo extensive restorations courtesy of promoter Live Nation. Despite the salute of affluence, Jay-Z wasn't out there as his nattily suited Chairman of the Board persona but Hova, a flash-tongued performer in his Rocawear ready to play -- and pitch for his candidate, Barack Obama.

Jay-Z is fascinated with identity and particularly his own quintessentially American rags-to-riches story, so it was only right to open with "Say Hello" from "American Gangster," one of the latest songs to retell his arduous climb to rap superpower. The evening's golden occasion gave him ample opportunity to illuminate those themes in new ways.

The Palladium originally opened in 1940 with a performance by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and its up-and-coming singer, Frank Sinatra. The renovation has brought it back to a highly polished showcase but a few signs of its storied past are still visible. The 11,200-square-foot maple wood dance floor, for instance, still shows scuffs from decades of dancing and rocking out, but the sparkling chandeliers and the red glowing lights highlight the Palladium's lovely whorled ceiling.

Booking Jay-Z for the Palladium's second opening was clearly meant to draw parallels from one Renaissance man to another.

"I consider myself Ol' Brown Eyes, baby," Jay-Z told the crowd, and like Sinatra in his later years, Jay-Z's show was a tour through his beloved, still-fresh hits but there was also recent ground to revisit, and not just his. For "Blue Magic," the screen behind him blasted images of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, spliced with shots of President Bush looking overwhelmed or clueless.

There was only one thing to talk about after that: "How many people here voting for Obama?" Jay-Z asked, pacing the stage. The crowd roared back in the affirmative.

Momentarily satiated, Jay-Z reintroduced himself with the opening track from "The Black Album," only to be joined a few minutes later by T.I., rap's prevailing superstar and Jay-Z's protege. Swapping freestyling duties on the mike, T.I.'s turn included a funny nod about being "way left field like Jamiroquai," but the Atlanta native's actually top and center with his chart-ruling album "Paper Trail."

A little later, Jay-Z gave respect to DJ AM, recently recovered from a plane crash that killed four people and narrowly spared AM and drummer Travis Barker. Onstage as Jay-Z's laptop man, DJ AM's hair was still patchy from treatments but he smiled and waved his arms in the air as Jay-Z implored the crowd to "make some noise for DJ AM" and give a quick shout-out to Barker.

A few songs later, Jay-Z, seemingly bored with the audience's reaction, which had plateaued at devoted but not rabid, jumped on DJ AM's gadgets and rifled through, and rejected, some 10 or so of his own songs. It was fun at first but the crowd's attention started to dwindle and Jay-Z smartly landed on one of his larger-than-life hits, unleashing the bhangra sample that ties together the silken rhythms of "Big Pimpin.' " It was back to yachts and beautiful women. No plane crashes. Only big dreams.


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