Nicki Minaj – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Sunday October 22
Hot on the heels of Jake Bugg’s album chart success, there was another musical first for Nottingham on Sunday night: the opening show of Nicki Minaj’s first ever arena tour.
As you would expect, the Trinidadian-born rapper has commissioned a big production job, with an elaborate stage set, fireworks, flame-throwers, animated projections, dance routines, costume changes, the full works – although live musicians were notably absent from the stage.
Almost inevitably, there were a few first-night glitches to contend with. Following well-received sets by Misha B and Tyga, the headline set was late starting – meaning that many audience members had to leave after the first hour – and by the time that it came to end, there were only twenty-five minutes left in the day. There were some awkward pauses between sections of the show, which Nicki’s DJ did his best to fill, but his call-and-response routines did wear thin at times.
There was accidental fun to be had along the way, though. One particularly plunging costume turned out to have a few problems in the fitting department, leaving Nicki fighting an almost constant battle against slippage. Towards the end of Va Va Voom, one of her more energetic numbers, the inevitable finally happened. “You guys have seen my boobs before”, she shrugged. “You won’t tell anyone, will you? What happens in Nottingham….”
“…STAYS in Nottingham”, roared the crowd, stuffing their smartphones back into their pockets.
A variety of vehicles brought the star to the stage. As the curtains opened, she emerged from a rather dinky little spaceship, complete with a vanity mirror inside its pint-sized cabin. Video projections had shown the ship blazing through the cosmos, before touching down on Planet Earth – only to be wheeled off, rather humiliatingly, by a stage hand. If there were any Spinal Tap fans in the audience, they might have been reminded of the spoof tour documentary’s famous “Stonehenge” scene. Had Team Minaj ordered something bigger, perhaps?
After the wardrobe malfunction, and a rather too lengthy break for the next costume change, Nicki re-appeared in a sparkling silver bathtub, clad in a full length bathrobe with a voluminous, furry collar. Underneath it, a skimpy little number twinkled invitingly. This time, the lady was taking no chances. The robe stayed firmly on, and the skimpy little number remained a well-concealed mystery.
An even longer break delayed the next section, and the DJ was fast running out of tricks. To their credit, the crowd stayed patient, never losing their will to party. Finally, the stage doors opened, and out came Nicki and her dancers, making merry in an open-topped pink convertible. There was just one snag: the vehicle was inflatable, and the backstage crew had clearly run clean out of puff.
As Nicki soon discovered, a semi-inflated convertible doesn’t offer the smoothest of rides. The car bounced and lurched, and the rapper bobbed in and out of view, still smiling gamely, if a little queasily. For one heart-stopping moment, the dashboard appeared to swallow her up completely, but the dancers saved the day, prising her out of the driver’s seat and depositing her safely on dry land. They won’t have fun like this in Manchester, or in London. We were the lucky ones.
Happily, none of these shenanigans dented Nicki’s showmanship and star quality. The steel-willed super-achiever in her would never have allowed it. The routines stayed slick, and the rapper’s flow remained razor-sharp. Perhaps she could have cut a little looser during the clubby pop bangers, which seemed to trap her slightly within her role. Like Katy Perry before her, the showgirl smile sometimes felt like a mask, shielding us from the woman within.
Perhaps this was why the show’s final segment worked so well. Freed from all stage trickery, her dancers dispatched to the wings, the rapper returned to her hardcore hip hop roots, spitting out her rhymes with dazzling brilliance, and a fiery conviction that hadn’t quite been there before. Meanwhile, the diehard fans in the front rows returned every word, almost turning the performance into a conversation.
“This is such an emotional night for me”, she told us, visibly moved by the crowd’s affection and loyalty. “Because this is the first show of my first arena tour, I will always remember you guys. And I mean that. This isn’t fake. This is real.”
If Nicki Minaj can hold onto that realness and nurture her on-stage connection with her ever-loving fanbase, even as the venues grow in size, then her biggest tour to date could just turn out to be her greatest triumph yet.