Chris Brown – Nottingham Trent FM Arena, Sunday January 4th.
He’s still only in his teens, but R&B’s latest and hottest superstar has already come a long way since making his UK chart debut, almost exactly three years ago. And on the second night of his first ever overseas stadium tour, this small town boy made good couldn’t afford to be complacent as he faced the challenge of building a live reputation here from scratch.
On the evidence of last night’s hugely entertaining show, he won’t have much to worry about. Deafening pyrotechnic bangs and equally ear-shredding squeals greeted his entrance – strapped to a wire cable, and slowly descending head-first towards the stage.
As the opening song Wall To Wall got underway, and the ten-strong dance troupe began to strut their stuff, it became clear that this would be more of a visual spectacle than a conventional concert. Apart from the drummer and the DJ, all of the music was pre-recorded – including all of the backing vocals, and even some of Brown’s lead vocals (although in fairness, his lip-synching was kept to a tolerable minimum). If a song contained a guest vocal, such as Lil’ Wayne’s rap on Gimme That or Jordin Sparks’ verses on No Air, then the vocal was simply played from tape.
If Chris had been any less of a performer, we could have been looking at an embarrassing flop. Thankfully, he possessed enough charisma and energy to carry the show virtually single-handedly.
Just as the corny audience participation stunts threatened to take over, Chris brought on his secret weapon. To gasps of astonished delight, his girlfriend Rihanna casually strolled onto to the stage, dressed in a simple top and jeans, singing the opening lines to Umbrella. The couple performed it as a duet, with Chris adding some new lines and even his own chorus: “You can be my Cinderella, ella, ella…”
Rihanna stayed around just long enough to treat us to a full vocal version of Live Your Life, before wandering back into the wings with a smile and a wave – leaving Chris to face his newly jealous female fanbase. “I apologise for bringing a lady on stage”, he simpered. “You know I love you.”
The surprises didn’t stop there. A few minutes later, Brown and two of his male dancers re-appeared at the back of the main floor, hidden under a tarpaulin. This was whipped away to reveal a flimsy disc-shaped performing area, which was then winched halfway up to the roof, as fireworks fizzed beneath it. Ropes were used to tilt the disc at varying angles, allowing Chris to mime a couple of sexy “slow jams” directly to the back rows of the venue, or back out towards the main arena. And if this wasn’t quite enough excitement, he ripped his vest off for good measure, hurling it into the clawing throng below.
From then on, it was a straightforward home sprint to the end. Having changed into some fetching beige leisure wear, Chris belted out a sequence of his biggest hits: Run It, With You, No Air and Kiss Kiss. His biggest hit Forever was saved for the encore, its live vocals filtered to produce the required machine-like effect.
This may not have been one of the most musically authentic shows that the Arena has ever seen, but it was certainly one of its more entertaining displays of crowd-pleasing showmanship.