How thrilled was I for the opportunity to take my young niece to the circus! Yes, the fond memories of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ still linger in my mind as warm assurances of a childhood well spent. Never had I thought, as a lad, that I might one day be on the opposite end of this great tradition: a torch-bearer passing down to a generation anew the excitement of the traveling circus under the big top.
And yet the occasion was dew-dropped with sorrow. The circus has changed quite drastically in such a short span. I hardly recognized it. The brothers Ringling have nothing to fear in the poor competition presented by this newfangled “Britney Spears” circus of today.
We entered the arena in anticipation alongside droves of like-minded circus fans, bought our popped corn and cotton candy, and found our seats in the grandstand. When the curtain was raised, a group of female acrobats in clown makeup called the “Pussycat Dolls” filled the center ring, but they performed no somersaults, no balancing act, nor did they treat the children in attendance to any aerial trickery.
Instead, the acrobats moved their pelvises in ways that made me think they had to go to the bathroom. This hunch was proved correct when each girl ran to a pole and squeezed her legs around it. Why is there no bathroom provided for the performers? Circus budgets are so tight these days.
In my youth, the circus was a nonstop show. But when the poor Pussycat acrobats left the stage, there was nothing. Certainly, thought I, Merle Evans will march in with the opening strains of “Thunder and Blazes,” followed by wagons of lions; or a caravan of unicycles will charge the arena; or, if fate does smile on us, a motorcycle “globe of death” will roll into the ring.
Instead, a large screen showed moving pictures of the circus. Moving pictures! I could not believe the indignity! The surrounding children in our section seemed content to occupy themselves by staring at their telephones and hitting the small devices with their thumbs, but I was incensed. This was not what I had paid $150 for!
After this half-hour mockery, the lights went out and more live circus tricks ensued, erasing the sour feelings. A clan of jugglers flung clubs into the air! A prancing maiden navigated dozens of hula-hoops! Two strongmen hoisted a nimble gymnast into flights of fancy! All those seated in the grandstands were tickled and on their feet in glee.
Unfortunately, the main attraction of this particular circus was the elephant, who I believe was advertised as a “singer.” Upon the elephant’s entrance, the small children cheered wildly. Yet to the more wizened it was very apparent that the elephant, replete with jovial blonde wig, was not singing at all but only moving its mouth in time with the loudspeakers!
From that point forward, the singing-imposter elephant took center ring. Clowns surrounded the elephant and held their bladders while horrendous crashes of noise mixed with the “songs.” Trapeze artists dangled from the ceiling, unmoving, while the elephant ambled slowly to and fro in a cornucopia of silly outfits.
After an hour, an unknown defect created a gigantic electric malfunction in the circus apparatus, causing sparks to fly onto the rings, and the performance was over. What a disappointment!
I do hope the Ringling Bros. circus comes to town soon. I would relish a chance to show my niece the true spirit of the big-top instead of this shoddy knock-off currently being peddled across the country.
Lil’ Wayne, the sandpaper-throated New Orleans rapper with the top-selling album of 2008, attracts one hell of a draped-up, chipped-out crowd. Attendees to the sold-out show filed into the Oakland Arena through metal detectors, and you never saw so many plastic baskets filled with expensive watches and rhinestone belt buckles in your life. It was like Oakland’s own regal Prom Dance, with even higher prices: Parking was $25, beers were $12, and hoodies were $60.
Not everyone was dressed to the nines, I soon found out, as one of the first groups of people I ran into inside were a staggering group of drunk blonde girls, one with her silver miniskirt sloppily bunched up entirely around her waist, weaving her hootin’ and hollerin’ way down to their seats to see the Gym Class Heroes. The Gym Class Heroes, I might add, were the worst pile of shit in the land.
Keyshia Cole was completely goddamn dominating, just a nonstop firestorm of talent and amazement. I saw her last year, before she got her teeth fixed, and though I liked the gap in her teeth I’ll accept the dental work as a metaphor for her whole career right now. Her albums have become more commercial since her amazing first record, They Way It Is, but damn if she hasn’t stepped up her live show. Twelve months ago, opening for R. Kelly, she was all energy and empty hyperactivity; last night she retained the energy and tempered it with elegance and grace, like fine cocaine.
Keyshia Cole is from Alameda originally, and the Bay Area love was definitely in the house. If you ever in your life pine for the sound of 20,000 girls screaming their lungs out at the highest available volume, go to a Keyshia Cole show and wait for the opening chords to “Love.” Cole is my Queen of R&B right now, the new Mary J. Blige, and that’s conceding that she didn’t even do “I Should Have Cheated.” Apparently she has a reality show. I’m scared to watch it.
From the onset, T-Pain slouched at the front of his stage bedecked in his trademark top hat, and shoved his hands in his pockets, looking bored with himself.
T-Pain had breakdancing midgets dressed in whiteface and camoflauge. He has three tents, one of them inflated to 20 feet tall, with his name and likeness at the top. He had a woman in daisy dukes and a bikini top walking on stilts. He had a blonde tattooed midget gyrating around the stage in her bra and panties. He had a fire swallower with flaming pastied nipples. He had a calliope, a bazooka, a vaudeville wagon, an elephant stand, and a backup yes-man in Marilyn Manson makeup who lip-synched along to T-Pain’s hits while T-Pain moonwalked, badly, across the stage.
“I got one word for you…” said T-Pain’s DJ, early on in the set: “Bay Area!!!”
Almost every song T-Pain played was a hit, and almost every song T-Pain played was chopped off by the incessant thundercrash from his DJ. He was very comfortable with the fact that the audience knew all his songs, and turned the singing duties over to them much of the time, not even bothering to hold the mic out to the crowd. While they sang his hits, his prerecorded vocals continued to play in the background.
There were significant moments in Lil’ Wayne’s set where there was absolutely no applause after his songs. Just empty silence. There were other moments that elicited frenzied anarchy, as when he took off his shirt. His vocals, already quiet and growly, were drowned out by his rock band, who hung from large cages and who served for the most part to uselessly thicken up his pared-down hip-hop into heavy metal jams.
“Dere’s three important things I gotta say,” announced Lil’ Wayne. “One: I believe in God, do you? An’ two: I ain’t shit wit out you, so make some noise. An’ three: I ain’t shit wit out you!”
T-Pain, riding circles around Lil’ Wayne on a Segway, argued about who had done more guest verses on songs by other artists this year. They decided to perform some of these songs, an experiment which if comprehensive could have gone on for approximately 83 hours, 31 minutes. The DJ played “Swagga Like Us,” but Lil’ Wayne cut it off, saying that he didn’t remember his own verse. This happens when you have 1,000 songs and are blasted on drugs most of the time.
“Y’all got the mixtapes?” Lil’ Wayne shouted, hypothetically, since his mixtapes have replaced albums as the listening format of choice for his fans; he did “I’m Me” and “Prostitute,” during which he sat holding a green electric guitar that he did not play. He then turned the stage over to a string of unknown friends to bore the crowd while he went backstage to get dressed for “Lollipop.”
Near the end of the set, Lil’ Wayne’s laptop DJ killed ten minutes by cuing up other people’s songs—“Single Ladies,” “Peter Piper”—while Wayne was nowhere to be seen. When he reemerged, he dissolved into a spiritual communion with stained-glass windows on the jumbotrons, spending an entire song on a spinning platform out of view of the audience. He bid farewell, the music ended, and the crowd was expected to applaud. No one did.
He popped back onto the stage to sing “A Milli,” its minimalist brilliance abandoned in favor of a heavy-metal wankfest, and left the Oakland Arena with a James Brown cape act and a run-through of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
And that’s the top-selling artist of the year. I was blown away when I heard “A Milli,” into the mixtapes, kinda underwhelmed by Tha Carter III, and after last night I don’t think Lil’ Wayne has the stamina to live up to his reputation. He’s got flashes of lyrical gold, oozes style and is a born ruler of the game; my guess is he’s toast in 2009. Riding out a tidal wave can be an art in itself, especially when you start counting up the $110 tickets head by head, and you realize that it is generating more motherfucking money than you or I could ever imagine. The tide can only go out from here.