Atlanta rapper T.I. has never been shy about declaring himself the King of the South, but Sunday night’s show at Kemper Arena earned fellow Atlantan R&B singer Ciara the right to declare herself Queen.
Both turned out physically demanding sets and proved that they had the charisma and show business chops to do what few performers can: capture the attention of a nearly full arena.
When the two emerged at one end of the runway-style stage for the encore, and ran together to the other end to launch into a joyous performance of T.I.’s current hit, “Big Things Poppin',” the moment felt genuinely triumphant.
T.I. and Ciara offered about a dozen songs in alternating six-song sets. Their contrasting styles nicely offset and balanced each other. Backed up by two other MCs and DJ Nabs, T.I. displayed his visceral mix of smooth talking, crunk shouting and fast rhyming.
Ciara, on the other hand, focused more on dancing, accompanied by diverse formations by her six backup singers (four men, two ladies). Fans of her “Like a Boy” video should be pleased to know that she actually does pull off those seemingly impossible Matrix-like bends.
Ciara was particularly gracious, paying homage to her roots with uniformed dancers who recalled Janet Jackson and a mirror-checking act like Morris Day of the Time. At one point, she and her two female back up dancers even donned Salt-N-Pepa like outfits for a version of “Push It.”
At another point, she simply played a medley “for the ladies” of current singles by Kelly Rowland, Eve, Crime Mob, dancing along with the records and the crowd, before performing her Missy Elliott-led hit, “Lose Control.”
She also used her set to feature her duet with newcomer Tiffany Evans, “Promise Ring.” Later, she brought Evans back out for a proper introduction and a stunning acapella performance.
Of course, the entire three and a half hour show, appropriately dubbed “Screamfest,” was mainly “for the ladies”: About 75 percent of the audience was young women. All night long, each artist engaged them directly, often playing the role of a cheerleader for the fans.
Lloyd and Young Joc both brought fans up on stage for some slightly naughty but mostly just nice dream-come-true theatrics. T-Pain’s set began with a video of a "Charlie’s Angels" style prison break; then he spent his six songs doing what he does best: pine for the “shawties.”
A particularly funny moment came before his hit “Buy You a Drink,” when he asked the women in the crowd if they were thirsty and then turned around and bummed $6 off one of his boys.
As T-Pain comically illustrated, the night’s other most prominent theme was economic struggle. Young Joc led the crowd in a raucous sing-a-long of '70s TV show theme songs, such as Sanford & Son (actually, since the song has no lyrics, that one was a truck-driving dance), the Jeffersons and Good Times, making a point about how music really does help people keep going.
When he performed a version of his hit with DJ Khaled, “We Taking Over,” T.I. stated that he wanted to represent all of those people in the audience struggling to get by as well as those who “stand up for what you believe in.”
Ciara personalized the issue by talking about loving that boy “your mom don’t like” and “your dad sure don’t like,” while offering a variety of songs demanding that the boy treat her right.
It all added up to an affirmation of the feelings of a large and very integrated assembly of young people. One of the emotional peaks of the first 90 minutes came with T-Pain had the lights turned up to focus attention on the crowd. Then, like Ciara, he showcased a record he had nothing to do with, DJ Unk’s “Two Step.”
The fans kept dancing, like the stars they are.
| Danny Alexander, Special to The Star