Jay Z’s Magna Carta World Tour made its stop at Montreal’s Bell Centre last night. His first solo concert in our hip-hop obsessed city since 2009, the show was nothing short of electric. With a lively audience, a killer video and light set up, great music and an experienced showman, fans went home confident in the fact that no one does it like Hova.
Jay Z hit the stage at 9:15 p.m. for almost two hours, with a short entr’acte that had Timbaland spin some of the biggest hits he produced, from his work with Aaliyah and Missy Elliott to “Partition,” a song off Beyoncé’s latest album.
Mr. Carter went through his biggest hits, old and new, including more than a handful of songs off Magna Carta Holy Grail, his latest album that only got a lukewarm reception from fans and critics. A few songs from Watch the Throne had the audience waving the usual Illuminati rock, including “Ni**as in Paris” and “No Church in the Wild.” The singer even gave a shout out to his last performance while opening the show, saying this show would top that. “Montreal, how you doing? I think the last time I was here was for Watch the Throne!” That’s when the deafening applause started. As soon as Jay Z spit the first verse of “99 Problems,” the applause was joined by 13,000 voices, rapping along with the music industry’s greatest businessman (or trying to) until he exited the stage with a humble “Peace!” After 24 of his hits, and five encore songs, the show still felt too short.
The simple set and ease with which he interacted with the audience put all the focus on the man and his music. As is to be expected, the speed at which he spits out his lines is even more impressive in person. Jay Z doesn’t have anything left to prove.
Our favourite moments from Jay Z’s Bell Centre show in Montreal (Jan. 24, 2014)
Audience participation: It’s hard not to get into it when everyone around you is singing along with Jay Z, like members of a cult chanting back to their leader. Last night’s Bell Centre audience was lively and created the ideal environment for the show. A highlight for us was when the rapper asked fans to take out their cellphones, modern-day lighters, during “Run This Town” (the last song before his encore set). Before we knew, the Bell Centre was lit up, each swaying hand a star in Hova’s sky.
Jay Z defying security: Between his first and second renditions of “Ni**as in Paris” off Watch The Throne, Jay Z defied the Bell Centre’s (and most arenas’, since I’m assuming he does this every night) strict no-standing-on-chairs rule and told security to “stand down.” He wanted ticket-holders to do whatever the hell they wanted: stand on chairs, get in the aisle, dance like crazy, whatever. It was civil, at least as far as we can see. The novelty of standing on our chairs wore off, but no one else got off, so we didn’t – and couldn’t, or we’d miss the rest of the show. Although it wasn’t necessary, it was another way for the artist to show his respect for fans.
The setlist: Let’s not forget why Jay Z is Jay Z: the music. He dipped in and out of hits old and new for the first portion of the show, and focused solely on his back catalog (non-Magna Carta) of songs for the second half of the show. The show could have been four hours long and the encore (“Encore,” “Empire State of Mind,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Hard Knock Life” and “Young Forever”) made it clear Jay Z has no shortage of material to work with. A stand out song for us was a slowed-down, Drake-free version of “Pound Cake”, highlighting the mogul’s witty wordplay and lightning-fast speed.
The ending: The best way to judge an artist’s true nature is to examine the way in which he or she treats his fans, his people, his livelihood. Jay Z is undisputedly humble and although he does everything with a signature nonchalance, his gratitude and respect were obvious during the shows final 30 minutes.
Smooth melodic music playing in the background, he asked the lighting crew to shine a spot on certain sections of the stage as he gave personal shout outs to audience members.
“I see you, girl in the fuschia shirt. Can we zoom on her. You have the brightest shirt in the whole place tonight…. I see you with the Impact Montreal scarf, y’all like them here, don’t you… You with the flag, what flag is that? Egypt. Egypt is in the house tonight… The girl with the pretty lady on your shirt, let’s zoom on that, yeah that’s a pretty lady [Beyoncé].”
On he went for a good 15 minutes. He invited a young girl onstage for a hug after he noticed her sign saying she was seeing him for the 14th time. He took a photo with a fan from the front row, who was decked out in Jay Z merchandise, holding a “living legend” sign. “Why not,” Jay said jokingly, “I’m in a good mood.” Afterwards, the young man gave him a baby sized blue Habs t-shirt that Jay Z then meticulously folded and put in his pocket.
The tribute was a touching one, and a rarity for rappers of his status. Well, for any artist for that matter. “This is the best part. This is my favourite part of the show. No matter how many records I sell, I will never get jaded.” You know what? We believe him.
Write-up and photos by: