Wiz Khalifa at Mesa Amphitheatre, 6-28-11

Wiz Khalifa
Mesa Amphitheatre 
Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The cloud of smoke that lingered over the crowd at last night's sold-out Wiz Khalifa show was proof positive that the Pittsburgh rapper's Rolling Papers tour had lived up to its name. Rail thin and covered in more ink than a newspaper, Khalifa kept the crowd going crazy with marijuana-themed mixtape classics, as well as more recent hits like "Roll Up" and "Black and Yellow" from his major-label debut, Rolling Papers. The audience -- a fresh-faced horde of innocent-looking, primarily white teenagers -- rapped along to many of Khalifa's rhymes, an impressive feat since much of his set list was taken from independently released albums that have never been available through traditional retailers.

Although his audience looked like it belonged at a Scottsdale high school pep rally, the rapper's stage presence was all grown up and truly impressive. Dressed casually in a tank top and shorts, Khalifa spit verses clearly, effortlessly, and with a flow that rivaled his recorded delivery. Unlike many of his mainstream hip hop peers who sound good on singles but come off as clumsy, forgetful, and out of breath at shows, Khalifa knows how to ride a beat, even while dancing, perfectly synchronizing his mannerisms to the music and toying with fans. Even more impressive than his skills as an MC was the range of his talent. While his upbeat party songs were ideal for a packed summer show at an outdoor venue like Mesa Amphitheatre, he wasn't afraid to also play slower, more somber and introspective songs like "Fly Solo."

A key moment of the night, Khalifa's emotional performance of that track on a darkened stage showed off his excellent singing voice and his chops as a performer, finishing with him collapsing to his knees in front of his mic stand. Charismatic and convincing, the rapper sold the audience on his emotions and spread those feelings through the crowd with highly effective gestures and mannerisms. Whether he was pumping up the party vibe for tracks like "No Sleep" with genuine smiles and silly dancing, amplifying the sexuality by showing off his abs for the sensual mixtape banger "Never Been," or conveying ice cold gangsta cool for his most recent single, "On My Level," Khalifa had the audience in his back pocket the whole night.

If the show had a weak point, it had to have been about halfway through, when Khalifa spent five minutes sitting on his ass in the center of the stage smoking a joint and mumbling incoherently. Marijuana enthusiasts tend to live vicariously through the drug use of others, so it came as no surprise when the crowd reacted enthusiastically to his smoke break. Still, the interlude dragged on at least twice as long as it should have, and even the most ardent weed smokers seemed to lose interest after a while since whatever he was saying was totally incomprehensible. 

​That moment aside, the show was pretty epic. The build up to "Black and Yellow" had the crowd going nuts, and when the song actually started and appropriately colored confetti exploded from the front of the stage, it was pandemonium. Wiz Khalifa fans who missed this show definitely lost out. He was the total package on stage and if his record sales and performance skills are any indication, he won't be playing a venue as small as this again for a long, long time.

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Wiz Khalifa at Mesa Amphitheatre

The Crowd: Picture the cast from the first season of Saved By The Bell. Now multiply it by a thousand.

Overheard In The Crowd: "WHERE DA WEEEEED AT?!"

Personal Bias: This review would probably be totally different if Wiz hadn't kept his hat on to cover that stupid blonde streak he's been rocking lately.