September 3, 2013 (View the full slideshow.)
Few critically acclaimed artists make critics reevaluate that acclaim as frequently as Lil Wayne. Not in the sense that some of his albums are better than others--in the sense that some of his choices are so strange that they make us wonder if all that critical acclaim was ever deserved, or just some weird mass delusion. (Witness the reaction to this week's claim that his "cum tastes like holy water," which I guess is supposed to be a good thing.)
Lil Wayne's mystique has always been his willingness to swerve in unexpected, inadvisable directions. Sometimes it leads him into innovative hip hop, and other times it leads him into oncoming traffic.
Tuesday's show was no exception to the confusing Lil Wayne rule: A rescheduled(?) charity(?) performance at half-full Celebrity Theatre(?)
The first sign Lil Wayne was actually in the building came at 7:45 on the dot--just as scheduled--when his inimitable voice and a distinctly imitable squealing guitar were briefly picked up over the sound system.
The guitar wasn't his, for better or worse. But at this point the Lil Wayne metagame is as big a deal as a Lil Wayne show. Will he cancel the show? If he plays, will he show up late? If he shows up on time, will he do something weird? If he doesn't do anything weird, will he look uninterested? He's on probation in Arizona (and in need of community service?), he postponed a show here two years ago after a skateboarding accident, and so on.
After he canceled Monday--after people filed into a half-full venue a fifth as big as he usually plays--that conversation overshadowed the simple fact that he was here at all.
So he did the unexpected thing again: At 8:00 he was on stage, acting almost as a hype man for the crowd itself. Incredibly animated, sounding more focused than he usually does on record, Lil Wayne and a live band tore through a set with a crowd that, whatever its size, was more than ready to finish his verses.
It was Lil Wayne in attract mode--he didn't mention the first show, postponed after problems with his private jet, but he's so permanently tuned into his fans that a specific apology would've been beside the point. "I must say I appreciate every single one of y'all here tonight," he said, instead. "Let me hear y'all say, 'We in this bitch!'"
The venue wasn't full, and the venue was small, but it was no problem in that moment. Everyone who was in that bitch was in this bitch.
And then it was over.
As his set progressed it seemed like every song was getting a little more compressed--halfway in it seemed like we were getting 90-second iTunes previews, which actually made the set feel even more energetic--and when he began removing shirts a little faster than usual the crowd seemed to worry something was up.
At 8:40 the music cut out and he began collecting his discarded clothes, and as the lights came up he repeated his beginning-of-the-show three-things mantra: I believe in God, I ain't shit without you, and most importantly, I ain't shit without you.
Then the show was over. At 8:44 people began filing out, having paid about a dollar a minute for their date with Weezy.
For all that, few of the fans who'd spent the previous 40 minutes so into the concert that they were shouting over him seemed disappointed. Surprised, yes--but they seemed to have gone in assuming they would be surprised in some way.
And on the Lil Wayne Wheel of Surprises, a really strong, incredibly brief show is really one of the best possible outcomes.
See more photos and the critic's notebook on Page 3.
Last night: Lil Wayne at Celebrity Theatre The Crowd: People who loved Lil Wayne, most of whom clearly were not worried about whether he is deserving of critical acclaim. It's easy to forget just how many people from just how many backgrounds love the guy.
Personal Bias: I believe in God, and Lil Wayne wouldn't be shit without me. Random Notebook Dump: Even the parking lot attendants are talking about how surprisingly empty it is here. Overheard in the Crowd:
And Lil Wayne has left the building. About 40 minutes on stage.
Said a high schooler behind me: "I didn't even get to finish my joint!"
— PHX New Times Music (@PHXmusicdotcom) September 4, 2013
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!