December 15, 2009
Better Than: Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, not LeBron James
Rap is a memoirist's art, and Kid Cudi's music is some of the most personal rap around. His recordings about loneliness and fears contain an intimate softness, like lullabies sung right next to your ear. But how does a mood aimed at "solo stoners" listening in headphones translate to the live show?
Tuesday night Cudi solved the problem by speaking into his own ear. He emceed mainly around samples of his amplified voice singing recorded hooks and melodies from the stage speakers. There's a fine line between boy idols and this, but the technique freed (or forced) Cudi to speak his live lines more fiercely -- to challenge the crowd, not just rock its crib.
Occasionally he harmonized with himself, or punctured that background melody with improvised lines. Adding to this double-voiced effect, Cudi toyed with the feedback of the chanting crowd. He tossed his mic out toward the fans and stood by himself, absorbing a dual echo of his words ringing back from the audience and the wall of his reproduced voice blasting everywhere.
Cudi lapsed at other times into plain ciphers, with the background vocals and beats cut off altogether. He slurred a capella through tangled monologues in the melodic drawl he owes his hometown aces, Cleveland's Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
"I smoke, I drink/ I do my own thing/ I'm living in my own world," Cudi said. Indeed, midway through his encore "Alive", Cudi lost his place in the song. "I forgot my own words," he said. "I really smoke a lot of weed. It's true."
Cudi played most of the work from his album Man on the Moon, and while the Regency Ballroom crowd had studied those lyrics, none of his tunes brought more hollering than when Cudi's DJ surfaced the familiar stuttering refrain of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" on Cudi's single, the rap-quiltwork "Make Her Say".
Like Gaga, Cudi was willing to experiment with his act. He tucked "Make Her Say" with top-10 hit "Day N Night" and "Daps and Pounds" in a three-song tumble performed, as he said, "no stopping." "I frolic/ about/ around," sang Cudi, and he skipped around in bright-red skate sneakers and a red plastic party cup. When he danced, he swung his arms like the hands of a great big clockface. If he sometimes moved with the calculated performance of a figure skater, or like the greatest talent contestant ever, it seemed honestly theatrical, as if he's been hanging out with Janelle Monae.
But that ice skater routine also showcased how alone Cudi is onstage. His songs about night terrors and such missed the vulnerable delivery of his album, and his ballads were so saturated with vocal melody they gave him little role but singing along, solo. When Cudi did "As Simple As..." with its undisguised tribute to the Jackson 5's "ABC," I wondered what Kid Cudi would sound like surrounded by a backing band of the sort Motown used to supply.
Personal Bias: I believe rap-soul combo Do or Die's claim that Bone Thugs N Harmony "imported" their trademark sing-song drawl from the Chicago threesome, rather than inventing it whole in ClevelandRandom Detail: School night? Cudi's show lasted less than an hour, finishing at 9:59 pm. He added a 5-minute encore and fans started departing before 10:10 p.m