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Concert Reviews:
Multi-faceted Nicki Minaj still on learning curve as a live act

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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DETROIT -- Nicki Minaj divided her concert on Tuesday night, July 17, at the Fox Theatre into four distinct parts -- an accurate representation of where the New York-raised singer, rapper and songwriter sits in the pop world these days.

Over the course of her two albums, three mix tapes and many feature appearances for other artists, Minaj has established herself as a pop hitmaker, an underground sensation, a street favorite and a fashion icon. She can spit rapid fire rhymes and deliver heart-wringing ballads such as "Right By My Side," "Fire Burns" and "Save Me," then get the Fox balcony bouncing -- as it did throughout her 85-minute show -- with club fare like "Starships," "Pound the Alarm" and "Turn Me On."

But on Tuesday night, the sum of those parts did not quite add up to a successful whole.

As evidenced by her messy Grammy Awards performance of "Roman's Revenge" and "Roman Holiday" in February, Minaj has grand designs as a live act. But her Pink Friday Tour show, part of her first headlining trek, dialed those down to more modest and workable stage set, a superstructure that featured two staircases and multiple video screens that ostensibly changed the "settings" for each song. On Tuesday it provided a bit of visual diversion and a static playground for Minaj and her six dancers, but not quite enough to cover the rote aspect of the show, which was ultimately a scaled-down version of the dance-pop extravaganzas Minaj's chart companions such as Madonna, Katie Perry and Britney Spears take on the road.

Playing to a sold-out crowd that was a) overwhelmingly female and b) dominated by fans dressed in Minaj-style attire, from wigs to colorful leggings, the show had its moments -- particularly the club music section, which culminated in a bit of David Guetta's Minaj-featuring "Where Them Girls At" and showcased Minaj, who sang and rapped to recorded backing tracks all night at her tightest. But that was bookended by a messy hip-hop opening segment (with opening act 2 Chainz guesting on "Beez in the Trap"), a run-of-the-mill ballad showcase and a disjointed closing segment during which Minaj, dressed in a glittery Fly Girl outfit, offered a scattershot medley of material from her "Beam Me Up Scotty" mixtape and brought a half-dozen fans onstage to romp with her during "Bedrock."

"HOV Lane" and "Super Bass," which brought the requisite show-closing confetti shower, were solid enough, but it was telling that the crowd seemed to have just as much fun during the DJ segments that covered Minaj's costume changes as it did when she was actually onstage. She's built a formidable repertoire in a short amount of time; now Minaj has to work on honing it into a live presentation that lives up to that standard.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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