April 10, 2014
On Friday, April. 4, CAB hosted rap artist Twista and pop star Jojo for their spring “Throwback Concert.” I arrived at the Annex at 9:30 p.m. and heard no more than a few minutes of live music until almost 11 p.m. That observation says a lot about how the concert went.
After getting onstage late, Twista and his crew quickly found out that there were issues with the sound system. Kanye West’s “Slow Jamz” (On which Twista is featured) was immediately crippled by loss of volume and occasional popping noises. Twista did his best to keep the audience in good spirits with standard lines like, “Hamilton, make some noise!” He went down in front of the stage to shake hands with students who swarmed to get close, even calling out, “Happy birthday” to one of them. Later, Twista tried rapping without any music at all. It showcased the fast “chopper” style that he is famous for, but it was a short-lived attempt, and in less than a minute, the audience continued waiting.
As half an hour passed, Twista seemed less sure about what to do, wandering around the stage, sitting down with his beer, saying he wanted to “hang out” with us. The DJs managed to get some music playing, and Twista half-heartedly rapped along with the recordings. Sporadic boos were audible.
In short, there was no performance—just a long, awkward wait for one. JoJo, however, did not come onstage immediately either, and her sedate DJs did the very minimum to energize the crowd by playing dance music while they mostly kept to themselves at the back of the stage behind their soundboards.
When JoJo did finally get onstage around 11, she launched right into her hit “Leave (Get Out).” In 2004, this song made her the youngest solo artist with a no. 1 hit on the Billboard Pop Charts, and it was one of the songs that had brought the huge crowd to the Annex. In tall high heels, tight black clothing, a denim jacket and round sunglasses, she looked the part, strutting around the stage and swinging her hips. On several occasions, she sunk to her knees and belted. After Twista’s sluggish and mired set, it was nearly electrifying.
But the effect soon wore off. More tech problems plagued JoJo’s set with feedback audible throughout. JoJo’s DJs remained unanimated in the back, placing the burden of maintaining the energy on JoJo, a task she was apparently not up to. Seeing one woman walking across a bare stage quickly proved uninteresting. After the third song, Jojo took off her jacket and spent the rest of the night trying to keep her shirt from riding up, and dancing a lot less. After her sexy, boisterous entrance, the effect was a letdown. Her inexperience showed throughout the performance. During songs, she would go to the side of the stage to consult with her manager (rumor has it that she was getting frustrated and was debating walking off stage), and her choice to cover a Phil Collins song was not the way to connect to a rowdy college audience. Her occasional “C’mon!” failed to inspire their enthusiasm.
Still, JoJo’s vocal talent was evident. Considering the fact that the music backing her was mostly percussion and low bass, her intonation was astoundingly good, even in her most complicated melismas. Also, her unique, fast vibrato, unusual for a pop singer, was compelling to listen to. Remarkably enough, JoJo sounded even better and more natural than on her recordings. Unfortunately, because of the sound mixing, her voice was sometimes hard to hear.
Both sets, in different ways, begged an important question: Is a concert worse when there are no live instrumentalists? For CAB’s “Throwback Concert,” at least, the answer was obvious. Twista’s reliance on pre-recorded music prevented him from performing when it couldn’t be played, and it was unexciting when it was. JoJo herself was not a bad performer, but being the only person onstage with DJs standing around in the way back, the performance soon became repetitive; I noticed many were not even watching anymore. The audience was unengaged, practically uninterested at times. Live music should be entertaining; live music should be engaging. My respect to CAB for what they do as always and for upholding the choice of the campus, but my advice: Next time, book a live band.