CINCINNATI — From the screams and shout-back lyrics in the near-capacity crowd at Riverbend Amphitheater on Thursday night, you’d think [artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne[/artist] had never visited the Queen City. In fact, Weezy was here earlier this year, playing the local arena to an equally enthusiastic audience. And, as if further proof were needed that he’s “the best rapper alive,” as he frequently reminded his faithful in neon letters on the big screen above the stage, even a surprise appearance by [artist id="1133"]Snoop Dogg[/artist] couldn’t steal the spotlight from Weezy F. Baby on this night.
With just a handful of dates left on the America’s Most Wanted tour, Wayne’s 90-minute show provided ample proof that even if his long-rumored “rock” album, Rebirth, doesn’t end up riff-packed as advertised, the New Orleans-bred MC still has plenty of love for headbanging and guitar slangin’.
For much of the show, Wayne was backed by his hard-hitting four-piece band, which grinded out power chords that would do a metal-loving bar band proud, particularly on the (literally) explosive opening tune, “A Milli,” which was accompanied by showers of sparks, flash bangs and Kiss-worthy pyro.
The show opened much more quietly several hours earlier with brief sets from Jeremih and Pleasure P, who warmed the stage up for Soulja Boy Tell’em. The teenage rapper stormed out with his four man S.O.D. Money crew, dressed in camo shorts and matching green Ed Hardy shirt, his coaster-size watch and diamond studded globe chain nearly blinding everyone in the first 10 rows.
With each tune punctuated by tooth-rattling samples of gunshots, Soulja Boy largely ignored his older hits in favor of tracks like “Gucci Bandana,” getting the largely female crowd teetering back and forth in unison to the molasses-thick, rib rattling bass thump of “Turn My Swag On.”
He took the stage solo for “Kiss Me Through The Phone,” but curiously ignored the tune that made him famous, “Crank That.”
Young Jeezy was next, augmented by a single hype man and a DJ for trunk rattlers like “My Hood” and “Trap or Die,” occasionally dropping out the beat entirely and pushing through his street-smart lyrics in just his hoarse holler.
And then Snoop Dogg came out. The surprise appearance by the Doggfather — who was hanging backstage with Cincinnati legend/Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins earlier in the night — drew hollers from the crowd. Dressed in a powder-blue tracksuit, Snoop took the mic for a few verses of “Gin and Juice” before leaving in a puff of smoke as Jeezy rolled into “Put On,” during which his black-clad band bounced out, black bandanas covering their faces.
Now backed by a guitar, bass, keyboards, a drummer and a three-piece horn section, Jeezy worked through the hook of “Love in This Club” (warning “this ain’t no motherf—ing R&B show”) before sliding into the more thug-riffic “Imma Do Me.” How large is Jeezy? As the strains of this year’s unofficial inaugural anthem, “My President,” boomed out, Jeezy saluted, thanked the crowd and walked off stage without dropping a single lyric from the tune.
By the time Wayne came out, the amphitheater — which was nearly empty when the show began — was packed with girls in their micro-mini, gladiator-sandal finest and the suburban dudes grinding right behind them. They joined Wayne in pointing to the east and west during “Got Money,” looked up to the clear night sky for “Phone Home” and shouted along to Weezy’s verse on “Swagga Like Us,” which was accompanied by rolling drums and a squealing guitar solo.
With barely a moment to breathe, Wayne dove right into “Mr. Carter” during an opening barrage that played like one of his mixtapes, as hot jam after jam was rolled out by DJ 4our 5ive, who kept things moving briskly. As you might expect, giant, face-flushing flames shot up during the nearly-metal take on “Fireman” before Wayne took a moment to pay homage to a trio of rap greats — Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur and Jay-Z — with verses from each. He, of course, added himself to the hip-hop triumvirate, as “the best rapper alive” blazed across the on-stage screens and he strapped on a Gibson Les Paul guitar for a shambling rumble through Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”
“Prom Queen” turned into a trip to a Vegas-worthy strip club as four dancers with pom-poms shook it while Wayne’s guitarist blasted out an Eddie Van Halen-worthy solo amid synchronized stripper pole routines. In case you didn’t get it, the stage filled with huge clouds of green smoke for “Kush,” as a half dozen fog geysers accompanied a Cypress Hill-like woozy bass thump.
Wayne’s “daddy,” Birdman, did his nightly cameo on “We Takin’ Over,” “Run This City” and “Always Strapped,” before the show hit a bit of a lull as Weezy brought out the Young Money All-Stars one at a time for some shine. Though Nicki Minaj made eyeballs pop with her liquid leather pants and a silver-and-blue bustier during her speed-rap spotlight (and despite a co-sign from Baby), up-and-comers like Lil Twist, Lil Chuckee and Gudda Gudda got polite applause.
Finally, nearly an hour into the show, Weezy dipped deeper into songs from Tha Carter III, grinding through the dark dirges “3 Peat” and “Let the Beat Build” and gladly getting cuffed by four sexy cops during “Mrs. Officer.” The stripper poles came out again for “Lollipop,” which rocked like Travis Barker had gotten his thunderpaws on it, though it was hard to know what to watch as Wayne thrust at Minaj while flames shot up and scantily clad dancers tossed money at each other.
At the end of the night, Wayne stood center stage surrounded by his extended Young Money family, but you can be sure all eyes were on Mr. Carter.