e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



Haven't yet had the chance to say a few words about Saturday's Jay-Z concert. The Obama campaign, with which Nicole and I have been volunteering, billed the show as a voter registration party. You had to register (or be registered) to get your free ticket. What a deal, right?

After Chinese take-out from a Michigan Ave. dive, we headed to Cobo, saw a long line on the sidewalk between Cobo and Joe Louis Arena, and so parked on the Cobo roof thinking we could avoid the long line. Down in the lobby, security shuffled us outside to the end of the line. Outrage! We immediately worried we were experiencing an "oversell" situation. Kind of like when radio stations have free movie tickets (what can I say? Nicole and I love cheap dates) but give away three tickets for each seat and you have to get there like an hour early but it's totally worth it because the people watching is so awesome and the price is so free.

Anyhow, we were on the verge of outrage because it was cold and we had now spent ten bucks to park on the roof. Plus, we hosted a debate-watching party for the campaign and canvassed Berkley. Getting shut out would seem completely...Keep cool--plenty of seats available, assured the young Obama campaigners with their clipboards and their Barack The Vote t-shirts.

Finally, the doors opened. Concert-goers shuffled past about two dozen of Detroit's finest wearing...wait for it...shirts that said "Detroit Police Department Gang Unit." I'm all for safety, but did they have to wear the gang unit gear? Wouldn't regular uniforms have been just as effective? We grabbed a couple good seats in the lower balcony and enjoyed the stylings of a DJ whose name they never gave, who spun some Detroit house music while the Obama logo flashed on a screen behind him.

After a quickie campaign film (good but generic, probably recycled from the national convention--would it have killed them to put together a motor city version?), two local radio personalities from two competing hip hop stations MC'd a series of very brief speakers including Diane Hathaway who is running for Supreme Court and a trio of young field organizers from the campaign. I had expected a little bit higher wattage (maybe our governor who played the role of Palin during Biden debate prep? maybe the new mayor? maybe Beyonce?), but the line-up revved up a crowd that didn't need much revving.

Jay-Z hit the stage like an explosion. Clad in dark shades and his trademark NYC cap, he didn't let a raspy voice weaken his swagger-y delivery of one-two openers "Say Hello" and "U Don't Know." Inexplicably, the screen behind the stage showed the opening credits of "Reservoir Dogs." The crowd went wild. Much dancing. Much singing along.

The cool thing about a Jay-Z show (at least this one) is that the audience is a LOT less self-aware than at most shows I attend. Go see, say, Yo La Tengo and audience members have two priorities: 1) enjoy the show and 2) look like you're not enjoying the show. Not necessary in that order. I love Yo La Tengo live, where the music is unpredictable and intense and the set-list is always full of surprises, but, man, loosen up, audience. I know you're pissed off that the My Bloody Valentine re-issues didn't include the b-sides to the import-only, Japanese versions of the singles, but smileforgoodnesssake.

Anyway, Jay-Z doesn't waste a lot of time. Speeding through over twenty songs, he played a lot of hits: "Izzo," of course, and "99 Problems" and "Big Pimpin'" and highlights from the Black Album. Cool to hear something closer to the original versions (albeit sped up versions) of those Black Album tracks, since Nicole and I always listen to the gray album mash-ups. By far, the highlight of the night was "Roc Boys," where Jay-Z's live band--especially the horns--finally had a chance to shine.

Early on, Jay-Z told the crowd of 12,000 not to hold anything he says against Barack Obama. "I'm just a free citizen exercising free speech." Amen. Great show.

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