In the Zone: Jay-Z and Kanye West Live at Bank Atlantic Center

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Leave it to Jay-Z and Kanye West to bring a scintillating arena presence into the moment. The Bank Atlantic center, a HUGE arena regularly used for Florida Panthers hockey games, was filled to capacity. Large arenas call for potent performances, and Yeezy and Hov didn’t want this concert to feel like just another night on the road, but an engaging and intoxicating opportunity to see virtuosos at work. And people can nitpick all they want (“Jay-Z is too old!” “Kanye is such a prima donna!” “They’re only in it for the money!”) but at this point in their careers the duo have nothing left to prove. The fact that they still aspire to give fans a life-changing experience puts a gaping hole in the arguments of any naysayers.

The first and most obvious eye- catcher of the show wasn’t Kanye’s leather kilt (a courageous selection, even for Yeezy) or Hova’s trademark Yankees cap, but the stage setup. When the concert began with a thunderous launch into the swollen Lex Luger jam “H.A.M.”, both rappers stood on opposite platforms with Kanye by the stage and Jay-Z in the middle of the audience. Then the first indication that this performance was a big-budgeted affair occurred: said platforms began to rise, only to become giant LED video cubes.

The crowd was truly transfixed. Even the fans in the nosebleed section didn’t feel discounted because of the gargantuan LED video screens displaying not only the rappers in action, but footage that embodied the show’s themes: On opener “H.A.M.” for example, we see bloodthirsty sharks; On “Otis,” an American flag; On “Touch The Sky,” two birds whisking gracefully through the air. Additionally, we get jets of flame shooting out of the floor on “Power,” and enough dizzying strobes on “All Of The Lights” to turn Stevie Wonder into an epileptic.

A major highlight came early in the duo’s set with a performance of “Who Gon Stop Me.” Now if there’s anything we’ve learned about Watch The Throne the album, it’s that these hip-hop titans are fighting together, rather than against each other. But when they rapped this song live, they literally sounded at war, like two seething bulls aggressively ramming into one another and interlocking tusks. Each bar exchanged between Yeezy and Hov felt like punches exchanged between Holyfield and Tyson.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY1aoIiGH5Q

The pair had very good chemistry when it came to sharing, as well as trading the spotlight. After opening the show with a few Watch The Throne tracks, they delved into individual hits, which were no less satisfying. Jay-Z’s epic “Public Service Announcement” gave way to the crowd’s most emphatic fist pumps of the night and “I Just Wanna Love U” loosened people up to dance, while West pleased the crowd with classic throwback hits (“Through The Wire,” “Jesus Walks”) and offered a glimpse into his soul with his more recent work by showcasing the poignant, auto-tune-assisted “Heartless” and “Runaway.”

Of the two legends, Jay-Z seemed more amiable and in control than West. To Jay’s credit, his discography is twice the size of West’s and seven years his senior, so perhaps his longer tenure gave him an advantage. More likely though, the reason Jay-Z comes off as more likable is because his stage presence is much more languid and down to earth than West’s. Kanye seems to wants to throw us on the emotional roller coaster that is life, while Hova just wants us to put our hands up and enjoy the ride.

The MCs closed their pre-encore set with two performances of “N****s In Paris” in a row. The reprise was fun (nobody minds chanting “That shit cray!” six times), but it would have been interesting if the fellas had decided to dig deeper into their collaborations (hearing the duo take on the retro Pete Rock-produced “The Joy” would have been a real treat.) Then the rappers left the stage with their heads held high, but nobody wanted the night to be over.

“Yeah, we didn’t want to go home either,” said Jay-Z as the duo re-entered the stage and blasted off with a third and final rendition of “N****s in Paris,” exuberantly shouting “again!” beforehand. The pair finished their set with The Black Album’s classic “Encore,” an apt conclusion not only because of Hova’s powerful lyrical content, but because of its production: soulful backing vocals, a triumphant trumpet sample. Simply put, it’s one of the best productions Kanye ever gave to Jay. And maybe at the end of the day, the secret to the Throne’s success is the rappers’ ability to give. Kanye West and Jay-Z gave their audience an unforgettable show, because after them, there shall be no more.