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The-Dream has played only twice before in the Bay Area—once opening for Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z at the Oakland Arena, and once opening for Keyshia Cole at the Paramount Theatre. Finally, on Thursday night at the New Parish in Oakland, he headlined here, and played a nearly two-hour set with a live three-piece band. The show was tremendous. The-Dream’s been on tour for a while now—Jay-Z and Beyoncé showed up to his tour opener in NYC—and at this point he’s totally honed his set.
From the opening notes to the last bass hit, the show was one huge party, with a room full of fans reveling in song after perfectly crafted song. On the floor, grinding. Up in the VIP, ass-shaking. On stage, ruling it. For two hours, the entire club was awash in sweet release. You think I exaggerate, don’t you? Well, watch this video.
“I’ve had this Oakland cap on since I started this tour,” said The-Dream, pointing to his Raiders cap. “I remember. I don’t forget shit.” It was Oakland, he explained, that embraced his songs early on. His set spanned his first two albums, mostly, and pretty much ignored the vastly dull but critically praised Love King. “Shawty Is the Shit” was a perfect opener—those stories about never being able to hear the Beatles live, because of teenage girls screaming so loud? Yeah—and within 25 minutes we got “Nikki,” “Falsetto,” and a slowed-down “I Luv Ur Girl” that exploded the joint.
Radio Killa signee Casha joined Dream for “Hit the Lights,” his latest single, and then worked the stage solo to perform her Denice Williams cover of “Silly.” It was weird enough to include the song on his free album 1977, and a set-killer in the live show; the monitors must have been dead, because Casha sang it flat. (Other so-so choices: token versions of “Gangsta Luv” and “Throw it in the Bag,” the Snoop and Fabolous hits that Dream guested on, and a cover of LoveRance’s “Beat the Pussy Up.”)
“Walkin’ on the Moon” contained a brief Michael Jackson tribute, “Love King” was the one and only song performed from Love King, 1977‘s “Used to Be” scathed with fierce passion, and the epic “Fancy” was all backlight and mood, erupting with drummer Charles Chaffer’s entrance in the song. Even though just a three-piece, The-Dream’s band replicated his songs perfectly, and ably took cues from their leader when to deviate from the arrangements.
Between songs, The-Dream himself seemed energized by the love from the sold-out crowd. “Purple Kisses,” awash in purple lights, led into a spoken interlude:
“In case you forgot what kind of records these are… these are records to fuck to,” he said. “If your life is hard, if things ain’t goin right, you just ain’t fuckin’ the right bitch. Girls, you too. If things aint goin right, you just aint fuckin’ the right nigga. It’s that easy. I ain’t been fuckin the right bitch for the last two years. You could tell. So instead I wrote songs that made it sound like I was fuckin’ the right bitch.”
The-Dream has a new album out this summer, and based on the two new singles and the raw intensity of this tour, it’ll be incredible. After infamous snubs from the music industry and the threat of retirement, his return is welcome indeed—just ask the dedicated group of fans chanting for “Put it Down,” even after the lights came up and the exhausted crowd started filing out.
Love vs. Money Pt. II Intro
Shawty is the Shit
Kill the Lights (w/ Casha)
I Luv Your Girl
Walkin’ on the Moon
Right Side of My Brain
Throw it In the Bag
Beat the Pussy Up
Used to Be
Rockin’ That Shit
Let Me See the Booty
1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)
2. The-Dream – Love vs. Money (Def Jam)
3. K’naan – Troubadour (A&M / Octone)
4. Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve)
5. Thorns of Life – Live at 924 Gilman (Torrent)
6. Sunn o))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)
7. Tyondai Braxton – Central Market (Warp)
8. Nomo – Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)
9. P.O.S. – Never Better (Rhymesayers)
10. Litany for the Whale – Dolores (Molsook / PMM)
11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)
12. Superchunk – Crossed Wires (Merge)
13. Not to Reason Why – Would You Hug Fire? (Pandacide / 1912)
14. Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (ACT)
15. Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss / Columbia)
16. Adam Theis & the Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows & Beats (Jazz Mafia)
17. Souls of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge (Heiro)
18. The Full Blast – Black Hole (Atavistic)
19. Finale – T.I.M.E. (River City)
20. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)
Everything was rolling along nice and fine during Keyshia Cole’s show at the Paramount Theater in Oakland Sunday night when halfway though the set, to join Cole on “Let it Go,” who should grab a mic and emerge from the wings but… Lil’ Kim!
If the City of Oakland ever needs a fairly dependable—and loud—way to reenact the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it should just let Lil’ Kim walk out onto the stage. The 3,000-seat theater went absolutely apeshit. Walls rattled. Fans rushed the aisles. For sixty seconds, it was uncontrolled mayhem, as if an violent act of nature was running its course. Then, with the song over, with a quick hug to Cole and a wave to the crowd, she was gone. Shit calmed down again.
Cole never quite had the crowd in her hands the way Lil’ Kim did, although not for lack of trying. Her nonstop choreography, her three wardrobe changes, her elaborate sets and gymnastic vocals all added up to an impressive display of hard work. But hard work alone is just that, and the sweat and energy Cole expels doesn’t cover up the fact that she’s touring on her weakest album yet. If Cole can get back to having classic material like “Love” and “I Should Have Cheated,” and if she can make performing those songs seem natural and effortless, she’ll be able to achieve her stated dream of headlining arenas instead of opening them—as she did the first two times I saw her, on tours with both R. Kelly and Lil’ Wayne. She’s got more talent than almost any other singer in R&B right now. She should have material to match.
After Lil’ Kim shook things up, a surprise guest visit by Too Short on “Didn’t I Tell You” was a welcome aftershock , and at the end of the set Cole took a few minutes to stop the music and thank her friends, family and fans in her old hometown for their support. She shouted out neighborhoods: “We got Murder Dubs in the house? You know I’m from Oakland when I say somethin’ like that.” It was a genuine moment, made more so at the end of a razzmatazz-filled spectacle. Then some dude took the mic and got the address of the afterparty wrong.
The-Dream is one of the greatest songwriters of the new century, and I’ve written about him a few times now. His records are brilliant in the way that early Prince records are brilliant (one of these days he will have his Purple Rain), and The-Dream’s hits for other people—“Single Ladies,” “Umbrella,” “Touch My Body”—need no introduction. But could he pull it off live, I wondered? Such is the post-ProTools landscape. I didn’t even know if the guy could sing on key.
Color me faithless. The-Dream was incredible live. Yes, he sang on key. More than that, he was simply electrifying to watch. He, too, talked openly to the crowd. Introducing “Falsetto,” a song about the noises one makes in bed, he instructed fans that “if y’all are sitting down for this song, then you’re getting’ old and you don’t know how to fuck.”
The night before the show, I drew up a set of dream Dream songs. My friend balked at “Purple Kisses,” and I felt redeemed that it was played. “Love vs. Money” also matched my expectations by being accompanied by guns fired in time to the intro’s gunshot sounds—a trick I’ve always wanted other bands to do—but died on the vine in the second verse after backup dancers interpreted a clock ticking down. Also: the first verse and the first verse only of “Sweat it Out,” rendered acapella.
The-Dream knows his hits. He interpolated both Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” at the end of “Nikki” and the Force M.D.s “Tender Love” at the end of “My Love.” He took his hat and glasses off and looked more like a completely different person than any other singer I know who takes their hat and glasses off. He swore often when talking about record executives choosing the wrong singles and his enthusiasm for the crowd’s support. His last song was “I Luv Your Girl,” and bearing witness to a theater of thousands of people singing its key line louder than any other line of the night was nothing short of incredible.
More Photos Below.
Last December, in an article rounding up last year’s pop-music’s trend towards minimalist production, I mentioned that Terius Nash, a.k.a. The Dream, a producer behind many of last year’s hits, was releasing an album that could not help but make more of a splash than his overlooked debut. I bought the album a couple days ago, and I’m not alone—Love vs. Money debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B / Hip Hop charts and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 151,000 copies in the first week. That’s not just a splash, it’s a cannonball.
Nash is the songwriter and producer with a hand in Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”—all huge hits that used razor-thin, super-sparse production to great effect. Though few guessed his album would be such a huge commercial hit, everyone agreed it could serve as a harbinger of pop-music production to come. Instead, it disappointingly looks backward and bigger instead of forward and flimsier, and it’s irrevocably marred by an overabundance of Atlanta party-style “Aaaayyy!” and “Oooohhh!” exhortations; it would be forgivable if this was a record made by a producer in 2006. As such, it is 2009, and “Aaaayyy!”s are dated as shit.
Love vs. Money has its moments, though, and they’re amazing. “Kelly’s 12 Play” tips the hat to an obvious influence, while “Sweat it Out” has the man ruminating on his girl’s appearance, advising her to book an appointment with her beautician in order to fix what’s about to get fucked up between the sheets. “Take U Home 2 My Mama” is a proper segue (all the songs overlap and blend hooks) into the album’s finest moment, “Love vs. Money,” layered with thick intermittent bursts of orchestration which sound like spools of magnetic tape pulled through Ampex heads at varying speeds. The sonic texture is as deep as his agony; it’s the antithesis of the razor-pop thinness that The Dream is known for, and it’s undeniable even if you don’t care about the ex-wife, Nivea, and the multi-millionaire rapper, Lil’ Wayne, who inspired it.