Last Night: Lil Wayne at American Airlines Center

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Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Keyshia Cole
American Airlines Center
December 19, 2008

Better Than: Listening to a whole bunch of records in which T-Pain and Lil Wayne are just the featured acts.

Check out our photos from the show here.

As if, at any point over the course of this past year, there was still doubt: Lil Wayne proved last night at the American Airlines Center that he is, indeed, a rock star--and maybe the biggest rockstar on the planet.

After the elaborate LED screens behind the stage fired up, and his backing band was lowered--yep, lowered--to the stage on platforms that, over the course of the night, would continue to undulate like fishing lines from the roof of the American Airlines Center, Lil Wayne popped up from a hole in the stage's floor with a bang.

A quite literal bang, actually: Pyrotechnics blazed behind him as Wayne leapt up like a super hero from the riser that was bringing him into the packed house's sights.

Immediately, he launched into "Mr. Carter", just one of the many, many, many hits Tha Carter III, his latest album, boasts. And the crowd shrieked in appreciation of the self-proclaimed, but rarely questioned, Greatest Rapper Alive's appearance.

The rest of the show, meanwhile, served as much as an anointment as a celebration. As Wayne smiled an almost dismayed smirk throughout the course of the night, it was clear that, despite his constant self-congratulatory remarks in the press and on record, Wayne's just now starting to acknowledge the power he holds over the fans, whom he thanked endlessly as the night wore on.

There were some snags over the course of the night--the sound for the capable live backing band (which included a DJ, a backup singer, a cellist/bassist, a guitarist and a synth player) was turned way up, sometimes overpowering Wayne's vocals, and, at least once, the vibrations of being raised and lowered from the roof caused the DJ's turntables to skip--but for the most part, it was a nice showing as Wayne went from hit to hit to hit in his catalog.

There were guests, too: T-Pain joined Wayne on stage for their collaborative, Grammy nominated, Play-N-Skillz-produced hit, "Got Money"; earlier in the night, T-Pain had impressed by showing an unanticipated charisma (and dance prowess, too) during his own raucous (if slightly distasteful) set, which featured circus performers and a dwarf dressed as Britney Spears. Later, Weezy showcased a bunch of up-and-comers he's working with, including a 15-year-old Dallas artist named Lil Twist ("He's young moolah," Wayne said) and, somewhat inexplicably, one of the stars of Degrassi: The Next Generation.

But, despite the large touring bill that also boasted the improbably top-heavy Keyshia Cole, Gym Class Heroes, Keri Hilson and Gorilla Zoe, this was, without question, Wayne's coming out party. He's officially an arena player now.

Throughout the hour-and-a-half long set and the three wardrobe changes that came with it, Wayne continuously proved his star power, his likeability and his talent, putting an end to all questions of doubt about his future.

Of course, the 26-year-old star has been doing this since he was 15. But even though Tha Carter III's been nominated for eight Grammy's and even though it's the best-selling disc of the year, last night's show proved what the artist himself would preach to the crowd toward the end of the night: "The sky's the limit," he said. And though he was preaching to the audience, telling them to reach out and grab their own dreams, the same could be applied to him and his own future.

But Wayne's also smart enough to know that he needs the fans to keep appreciating his talents in order to keep his recent successes going: In a somewhat campy (but also charming) move, he ended the night by singing along, half-jokingly, to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."

What a sap. --Pete Freedman

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I'm blown away by Weezy's ability to be everywhere at the same time, appearing on everyone's records and whatnot. And I think Tha Carter III is a Top 20 album of the year, no doubt. I just think I might like T.I.'s Paper Trail a little bit better. Even so, Lil Wayne's obviously the bigger star of the two, and, yeah, I appreciate that.

Random Note: It was refreshing to watch Lil Wayne and T-Pain throughout the surprisingly funny evening, as they each toed the line between superstardom and self-deprecation. The funniest of these moments came during Wayne's set, when T-Pain joined him on stage and the two argued over who had appeared on more records in 2008, and which deserved the title of the "feature king". But, in the end, no winner was actually declared, unfortunately.

By The Way: For those out there who've been knocking Wayne of late for playing the guitar (pretty badly) while performing on stage: Wayne had a guitar brought out at one point during his set, yeah. But he just held it in his lap and let the backing guitarist play his part for him. The camera for the LED screens were zoomed in on his hands and everything, but Wayne--perhaps realizing that he's not Sly Stone just yet--just let the guitar take a break.

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