“I don’t care if you’re up top or down here on the bottom. If you’re young or old. My only rule tonight: Have fun.”
Such was the guiding precept that hip-hop and R&B superstar Chris Brown directed to a raucous crowd Tuesday at the Sprint Center immediately after descending from the arena’s ceiling to kick off the headlining set of his KC Party tour stop. Brown and his backup dancers were still attached to their aerial apparatus when he goaded concertgoers to drop their shoulders and have a good time — to party with him.
This wouldn’t be the last time Brown or his dancers would go airborne. Throughout the night they’d cascade through the air like trapeze acrobats and Cirque du Soleil artists, an exhilarating visual assist to the overarching theme of weightlessness and escapism flushing through Brown’s party. Yet despite top-notch visual effects (you won’t find many in R&B or hip-hop who produce a more rousing show) and Brown’s ability to entertain in his sleep, this particular foray to the Sprint Center, while enjoyable, could’ve soared a bit higher.
Since his 2009 physical assault of his then-girlfriend Rihanna, Brown’s career has been bogged down in self-induced controversy and public contempt. Over time the weight of it all — the arrests, rehab stints and public squabbles — has taken an oftentimes overlooked emotional and psychological toll on the star singer:
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“I felt like a f—ing monster,” he told Billboard magazine in a 2015 interview. “I was thinking about suicide and everything else.” A more recent profile of Brown released last month painted an equally harrowing picture of Brown teetering on the edge. He’d recently engaged in a bizarre feud with rapper Soulja Boy that nearly resulted in a celebrity boxing match, been slapped with a restraining order from longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend Karrueche Tran, been sued by his longtime manager and, according to those close to him, stopped taking medication prescribed to treat his bipolar II disorder.
Last week, prosecutors announced they were investigating Brown (who has previously been in rehab for abusing cocaine, prescription pills, lean and marijuana) for a possible connection to a federal drug case. “Dancing with death” is how one close friend describes Brown.
With all this considered, it is refreshing and welcome to see Brown in one of the few spaces where he seems positive and self-affirming. It’s refreshing to see Brown in a space where he excels. It is refreshing to see him on the stage.
Twelve years into his career, Brown is still the most roundly talented R&B artist of his generation (and perhaps the one before him). He is one of the greatest entertainers on the planet, and though some will never want to take the title away from The Gloved One, arguably the greatest pure dancer pop music has ever seen.
He’s also the rare entertainer whose “C” effort is as entertaining as some of his contemporaries’ best. Perhaps it’s this cheat code recognition that allowed Brown to put up his feet up a bit and give the Sprint Center an entertaining enough, but ultimately less-than-his-best performance.
He has given better concerts in Kansas City alone (both his 2008 and 2015 trips here had higher energy). He spent a majority of this performance lip-syncing (sometimes poorly), which is typically a trade his fans are willing to make in return for his larger-than-life dance theatrics. But the moves were lacking too. Not in crispness — Brown couldn’t dance poorly if he tried — but more in verve and virility.
A hallmark of Brown’s performances has always been his dance rifts, in which he’ll effortlessly deviate from his own hits to freestyle to classics or the hottest songs of the moment. It’s an extra dessert his fans have come to expect. I imagine those at the Sprint Center still felt compelled to stop by Winstead’s for a shake afterward.
Brown also abstained from ad-libbing or much crowd interaction, speeding through a set of just over 20 songs in little more than an hour, two ensemble switches included.
When he did dance (and he danced plenty, just not Chris Brown plenty), he showed he’s still one of the best to ever grace a stage. And with a staggering catalog of hits that range over more than a decade and three genres (he has more than 80 entries in the Billboard 100) Brown was able to sufficiently satisfy both the dominating contingent of screaming teenagers with recent hits like “Party,” “Ayo” and “Loyal” and his older, mid- to late-20s fans with more classic fodder like “Yo” and “Poppin.”
One particular highlight was his performance of his 2009 bedroom ballad “Take You Down,” which featured a live duet with a lady guitar player.
The concert was slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. but started about 45 minutes behind time — understandable considering that star New York rapper 50 Cent recently dropped out of the tour because of scheduling conflicts. Still, “Party” provided a wide view of hip-hop’s diaspora: Hip-hop newbie and Brooklyn native Cassanova opened the show, followed by the Mexican-American, Atlanta M.C. Kap G (“Girlfriend”) and the surprisingly enthralling onstage presence of O.T. Genasis, an L.A.-based rapper with a penchant for infectious street anthems (“Cut It,” “Coco”).
After cycling through hip-hop’s new school for about an hour, nostalgia took center stage as hip-hop heavyweight Fabolous treated the crowd to a slew of his early and mid aughts hits like “Into You,” “Throw It in the Bag,” “Make Me Better” and “Baby Don’t Go.”
Chris Brown set list
Wrist, Poppin, Love More, Yo, Deuces, Picture Me Rollin’, Body on Me, Privacy, She Wildin’ (Feat. Fabolous), Liquor, Drunk Texting, Make Love, Back to Sleep, Wishing, Do You Mind, Time for Love, Ayo, Loyal, Play No Games, Show Me, Post to Be, Kriss Kross, Party