NEW YORK — If you’re gonna close a show, close a show. After Lil Mama, Soulja Boy and Bow Wow successfully made the throngs of youngsters at Madison Square Garden scream and dance Thursday night, Chris Brown topped them all by bringing out about half a dozen guests onstage with him.
Most of them didn’t even have to physically be there to make an impact (more on that later). But three stars — who happen to be as perennially loved in New York as the Giants (at least when Eli Manning isn’t turning over the ball) — did show up live and in living color: Diddy came out for “All About the Benjamins” and “Last Night,” while Juelz “Stunting Hard in My White Mink Coat” Santana made a surprise cameo on “Run It.”
Probably the biggest surprise entrance of the night was that of the G-Unit’s Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and, of course, 50 Cent, who once again shook the building with “I Get Money.”
The last time 50 hit the Garden, as you may remember, he was onstage with Jay-Z, Kanye West, T.I., Diddy, Swizz Beatz and Ciara in a very impromptu but magical historic hip-hop moment last August.
After Diddy had the crowd singing, there was a momentary break, and the DJ announced that he would be playing a record and wanted everyone to sing along if they knew it. Only he didn’t mention that the person whose song it was would be there too. The stage went black, and the “I get money/ I get, I get … ” began. The spotlight came on, and out pounced the G-Unit. Chris Brown scampered out shortly after to dance with 50 and the gang.
After the G-Unit left, a classroom setup was put on the stage. The DJ played the theme for the famous ’80s TV show “Saved by the Bell” before quickly transitioning to “Run It” as Santana came out.
Chris and his dancers, who were all dressed like schoolkids (a couple even wore beanies), battled it out with old-school dances such as the “Cabbage Patch” and the “Running Man.”
Throughout the show, a small screen was periodically lowered to the stage and Chris was joined by some virtual guest-stars, such as T-Pain, who sang his part in the show’s finale, “Kiss, Kiss.” Some of the projections were obvious void-fillers for schedule-conflicted friends: Lil Wayne on “Gimme That” and Rihanna on the “Umbrella” remix. Then there was the random but welcomed holographic performance by LL Cool J for “Radio,” a record that hit before C. Breezy was even born. (“Krush Groove” reference now: “Box!”)
One of the holograms was Chris himself. The prepackaged “Pretty Boy” was dressed in a vest with no shirt, while the live C.B. wore a throwback red Adidas jumpsuit. They challenged each other to a breakdance face-off.
Brown started his set with an animated short, in which sword-wielding foot soldiers sent by a winged alien playa hata interrupted Chris on a hot date. The animated Brown apparently has degrees in butt kicking, hover-cycle driving and jet-pack flying. It all culminated in the cartoon Brown’s crash-landing, which set up the real Brown’s impressive entrance via the high way — not the highway, but the high way, as in lowered from the ceiling on ropes.
Earlier in the show, Bow Wow made his own fly entrance. He emerged from a mini-jet that was lowered down to an elevated platform on the stage, and came running down the steps to set things off.
After a couple of well-received records, Bow, obviously the most seasoned of the night’s performers, got surprisingly serious.
“That dude backstage is like my brother,” he said referring to the blog talk that he had spit on Chris Brown last week after throwing a fit backstage. Earlier this week Bow told MTV News the rumor was 100 percent false.
“Rumors are rumors, facts are facts,” he said onstage. “It’s a fact that that dude backstage is like my brother.”
He went on to admonish the Internet bloggers who spread lies. “You know what I tell ‘em? Y’all ni–as ain’t fresh as I’m is,” Bow said, leading into “Fresh Az I’m Iz.” That was followed by the “I Think They Like Men” remix, where the crowd rapped along to his catchy one-liners like “I’m under 21 with a black card.”
Despite being on the cusp of turning legal drinking age (Bow’s b-day is March 9), the young rapper clearly has not lost appeal with the kids, who made up most of the audience.
Medleys of “Let Me Hold You,” “Like You” and “Outta My System” followed. The Ohio native then left the stage and gave way to an unannounced mini set by his Face Off partner Omarion. The self-proclaimed “King of Dance” came out to “Entourage” and transitioned into “Touch.”
After a dance breakdown, Bow yelled, “Face Off time!” from offstage. The duo went into “Girlfriend” and took off their shirts for “Hey Baby.”
Lil Mama started the show, bringing out enough kids to fill half a schoolyard during her short set. She closed with “Lip Gloss” and sent love to her mother, who passed away in December.
“Rest in peace to my mother. I love you,” she said.
Soulja Boy was next, and although he did a handful of cuts, the Garden was clearly anticipating his hit “Crank That,” as the crowd of 20,000-plus was yelling “You’llllll” and doing the world famous “Superman” dance.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.