From the moment I pulled into the parking lot across from BBVA Compass Stadium for the H-Town Beat Down Friday, it was pretty obvious that something was off. It was 7:05 p.m., the earliest and most on-time I'd been for a show in a very long time, and the show slated to start at 7 p.m. had in fact started. At least from the sound of Paul Wall bumpin' through the parking lot, anyway.
This theory was confirmed at check-in, where we were handed a printout of the night's schedule. While the show had been advertised to start at 7 p.m., it actually started earlier than that. And I missed Paul Wall.
So did 99 percent of the rest of the concertgoers. I didn't make it to my seat before the "Sittin' Sideways" rapper left the stage, but neither did anyone else. Apparently I wasn't the only one who missed the memo; the place was empty.
While it may be The Beat's first year in Houston, this station knows a thing or two about rap. And that knowledge presumably includes Houston rap, which was part of what Friday's concert was centered around.
So why was Paul Wall on for a whopping ten minutes before the show was scheduled to start? He was given enough time for two songs, and then he was off. I didn't get it. And I didn't see it, either. I just heard it from my place in the parking lot at 7-freaking-05 p.m., a while five minutes after the show was slated to start.
Same thing happened with Trae the Truth. With a break in between "sets" for the radio station DJs to...well, who knows what they were doing up there, the Houston legend was put onstage about ten minutes after Wall had finished, and again was given time enough for two songs.
With Trae and Paul Wall up there rapping to an empty stadium, especially one the size of BBVA, it just made for such a weird atmosphere. It almost appeared like a mic check, rather than an actual concert. The place was a ghost town.
Next up? Some kid from Canada who was given five minutes, in which he managed to brutally maim and then kill Bel Biv Devoe's "Poison" and also proposition the ladies afterwards. It was an impressive feat. I believe the dude was Kirko Bangz's cousin, Tory Lanez, but I'm not going to bother to learn his name. I'll never hear it again. His five-minute set was enough for a lifetime.
Three artists in, the concert was already feeling way more like a showcase than a concert. In between artist "sets," the radio station DJs came onstage and chatted with the crowd or played a couple of songs. That choppy schedule was incorporated for the entire show, and nothing really vibed quite right about any of it.
Meek Mill, who was given an extra five minutes -- making his "set" a full 15 minutes -- was the first person who managed to hype up the crowd. To be fair, he did in fact kill that short set. It was a nice change of pace to see people out of their seats and paying attention, quite a contrast to the openers. But perhaps that's because for the openers, there was no crowd.
It seemed that most of the concertgoers assumed that while the show said it started at 7 p.m., there would be plenty of time to account for Houston traffic before any decent artists -- local or otherwise -- took the stage. Rarely if ever have I seen a show start before the advertised time until this one.
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The stadium stayed relatively empty throughout the first headliner, J Cole. The hip-hop artist came on early -- about 8:15 p.m. -- and the sun hadn't quite gone down yet. It was strange seeing this whole thing go down well before the sun had, but with so many names on the lineup, perhaps it was the only way that the logistics would work.
He touched on all the hits he could in that half-hour slot, including "Work Out," and did a pretty decent job. The choppiness of the set made it hard to really get into what was happening up there, but Cole definitely made the most of it. The venue just wasn't working that well.
Performing to a half-empty stadium has to be a bit disheartening for an artist, and it's definitely odd to be on the other end of it. Rarely do concerts have that many empty seats by the time the headliners take the stage.
When Lamar, dressed in what appeared to be Nike trunks and a T-shirt, took the stage just after 9 p.m., the lights had gone down and the stadium had sort of filled up. There were still rows and rows of empty seats, mind you, but the floor level was full. But finally, things started to come together. For the first time the entire night, the H-Town Beat Down started to feel like an actual concert rather than a showcase.
Now, to be fair, Lamar deserves some of the credit for that atmospheric shift. After all, the dude is insane on the mike, and chill as can be while doing so. But part of it was just the fact that people had finally started to trickle in for the show. Full seats and adoring screams can do a lot for a concert. And apparently the lack of them can do the same.
Lamar was allotted about half an hour up there, the longest slot allowed for any artist, and really made the most of it. His energy is so perfect that it resonates from any stage. Songs like "Swimming Pools (Drank)" get accolades for a reason, but while it was by far the song that got the most response from the crowd, it was hardly his best. That's because everything he does is so on par that it's hard to say one song is better than the other, or one moment is more fitting. Dude is just legit.
I would have been just fine with Kendrick onstage to close out the last hour and a half. Unfortunately, the promoters had other other plans, so Trey Songz was up next.
He is, of course, the quintessential R&B bad boy, and makes no bones about it. Songs like "I Invented Sex" and "Heart Attack" have some sort of strange effect on the ladies, all of whom jumped up on their chairs when he took the stage. That's where they stayed, too, for the entirety of Tre's half-hour set, perhaps hoping to grab the attention of the gyrating singer.
It's always an interesting social experiment to watch the reactions to his songs. There's either the manly pseudo-disdain or the girly squeals and not much in between; that's pretty much his entire allure, at least in my opinion. He is titillating because he sings about bumpin' and grindin', not because he's truly that spectacular.
Songz may indeed be a decent singer, but he's just not that unique as an R&B artist. So he likes sex. And he sings about love. He does what's already been done -- and will be done after -- so there's just not that much to set him apart from the competition. He's good, but he ain't great.
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Future was up next, perhaps listed as an encore as he was only given 20 minutes, but I'm not sure how his set went because I left.
It's the first time I've walked out of a show in a very long time, but I didn't get it. He's just eh, especially compared to some of our hometown legends. Future closed out the show -- I'm just being "Honest," son -- and did so after Paul Wall, Bun B (who was given a Legend award), Trae the Truth, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole and Meek Mill.
Any one of those artists -- boring ol' Trey Songz included -- would have been a more interesting choice than the super-abuser of Autotune. Despite decent artists like Lamar, the order of the artists was done in such a weird, choppy fashion that nothing flowed or made sense, making the entire show lackluster. And to stick Houston legends on as openers is a bit insulting to our rap scene.
Or maybe I'm just too damn old to get it. I don't even know anymore.
Personal Bias: I just, I can't with Future. He's just bein' honest -- I know -- but how in the world does he close out what I'd consider a Kendrick Lamar show?
The Crowd: Man, I've never seen so many girls wobbling around in sky-high heels on protective matting over a soccer pitch. That concert was not the place to play runway.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I'm sorry! It's her birthday." -- the poor child next to me apologizing for her very drunk friend, who kept throwing up the deuce right in my face. She really liked Trey Songz.
Random Notebook Dump: Seriously with the kid from Canada? Surely that was a joke.
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