The specter of Michael Jackson loomed over the opening of Chris Brown’s One Hell of a Nite Tour at the Sprint Center on Wednesday.
Jackson was still alive when Brown first headlined at the arena in 2008. Brown’s pop and R&B hits have filled a portion of the enormous void created by Jackson’s 2009 death.
Like Jackson, Brown’s reputation has been sullied by frightful behavior.
More than 10,000 people put aside any reservations they may have harbored about supporting Brown to attend Wednesday’s concert. They were serenaded by the music of Jackson before the show and during three breaks between opening acts. Brown rewarded the allegiance of his fans with a dazzling performance.
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On a visually impressive set dominated by video screens that changed to complement the tone of each of more than 30 selections, Brown boldly danced and occasionally showcased his silky voice.
Live instrumentation accentuated pre-recorded backing tracks. Brown didn’t attempt to conceal that he wasn’t singing every line of his songs. His strenuous dance style – a combination of the classic grace of Fred Astaire and the violent explosiveness of LeBron James – would have made entirely live vocals almost impossible.
His fans didn’t mind.
Many were there to gawk at Brown’s good looks and striking physique. They screamed passionately when he briefly exposed his sculpted torso during “Strip.” He performed much of the second half of his outing without a shirt.
Brown is so charismatic that the 10 supplemental dancers seemed extraneous. The presence of French Montana was also unnecessary. The party rapper performed a handful of his bawdy hits toward the end of Brown’s set.
Kid Ink, a rapper who was appallingly amateurish in his set earlier in the evening, joined Brown for the similarly treacherous hit “Main Chick.” Brown’s ability to balance lewd hits with wholesome love songs like “With You” filled Wednesday’s concert with wild mood swings.
The subject matter of opening act Fetty Wap’s material is consistently alarming. The New Jersey rapper’s left-field hit “Trap Queen” is a lurid celebration of illicit activities.
Wearing a Royals jersey that reflected his burgeoning relationship with the baseball team, Fetty Wap described the consequences of his newfound success.
“Last year I didn’t have an address – this year I have five addresses,” he said.
Fetty Wap’s gritty music reflects his background.
The headliner’s penchant for compositions about violence and substance abuse seems like a deliberate choice.
Brown often resembled a gangster rapper trapped in the body of a gifted song-and-dance man Wednesday. The conflicting personas resulted in a tremendously rewarding concert.