Lil Wayne at U.S. Airways Center Last Night

Lil Wayne
US Airways Center, Phoenix
Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lil Wayne has entertained the idea of morphing from a rapper into a full-fledged rock star for a few years now. Why would one of the world's most successful rappers want to learn to play guitar despite being mercilessly mocked for his efforts? A good question, and one he pretty much answered last night at US Airways Center as he used both a four-piece band and a DJ to mount a very impressive show on his "I'm Still Music" tour.

Weezy's band-aided show was played to an excited Tuesday crowd, and rocked harder than most bands you'll see at an arena this year. A full band, songs with bass solos, screeching guitar parts, skinny jeans, showers of sparks, a Sgt. Pepper's T-shirt paired with orange Chucks and a chain wallet -- Wayne's end-of-show boast that "you've now been entertained by much more than a rapper" was well-earned through trappings normally associated with rock acts.

Now, before I go any further let me note that Weezy's rocked-out rap songs aren't the sort of "rap-rock" that rightfully makes anyone who lived through Limp Bizkit uneasy. Wayne's version, heavy rap verses with rock hooks, worked very well. At least until Wayne killed the momentum by stepping off stage for nearly an hour while stooges from his label, notably the insufferable Nicki Minaj, took over.

The show may have been branded "I Am Still Music Tour" but it was far from a retread of the show he brought through in January 2009 -- the one that started nearly three hours late. This version had higher highs and lower lows. Wayne himself -- now sober by law -- was dead-on from "A Milli" on.

Alas, Wayne's set wasn't the entire show -- and the other part, the band part, was woven pretty tightly into the evening.

Things really started downhill when Wayne brought out his label's young signee Lil Twist out to "sing" a song. Twist, a teenager with a towering Kid 'n Play haircut who sang through heavy Autotune distortion brought little too the table. Twist was followed by Miss Shanell, who took stage in a blue boa and silver dress doing a little ballad.

Then, things got really off-track as Enya's "Book of Days" played while a scene from Gladiator showed on a screen while Wayne took a break. However, in a surprise twist, Wayne himself didn't come back from that break right away.

Enter popular music's most annoying personality, Nicki Minaj, who emerged from a trapdoor at the front of the stage dressed like a tie-dyed Rainbow Brite with some sort of robed creature next to her. I'll spare the most of the details of her awful set, but know that it included dancers wearing football helmets and pumping their asses into the air before hiking a ball, a rendition of "Save Me" with skilled singers flanking her from both sides while she warbled like an Idol reject and Steve Nash getting a lapdance as she rubbed her big, gross fake ass all over him.

At one point, Minaj's minions lead a chant of "Pink Friday," the name of her album, which she halted with one of the most obscene sales pitches I've seen made from a stage.

"You know, they said 'Pink Friday' but they didn't say 'Pink Friday Deluxe.' You didn't get the Deluxe, did you? Well if you have the Deluxe you know this."

Happily, Weezy eventually came back to do "I'm Me," "Phone Home," and more. A highlight of the second set was "Bed Rock," performed surrounded by dancers in pajamas and pillows. The song, of course, also features Minaj, but her small contribution didn't spoil anything.

Lil Wyane also used the latter part of his set to get back to his rap roots by bringing out Cash Money Records co-founder Birdman for a pyro-enhanced, band-less version of "Money to Blow." It came off very well.

"Prom Queen," on the other hand, saw Wayne playing guitar himself. He mostly managed to make it squeal, rather than play chords, but that was fine given all the help he's got.

Then, however briefly, it was back to rock. On Weezy's big comeback hit "6 Foot 7 Foot" you couldn't even hear the Harry Belafonte sample that makes the song so catchy -- which was fine, too.

Lil Wayne's a rock star now, who needs samples?

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Lil Wayne at U.S. Airways Center Last Night

Personal Bias: Staunchly anti-Minaj.

The Crowd: Lots of girls in short dresses and tall heels.

Random Notebook Dump: Lil Wayne intro: 'I believe in tree things: God. I Ain't Shit without you and #3 I ain't shit without you.'

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