One of the things that fascinates me about "Yeah" is that Usher is by far the least interesting part of his own breakthrough hit. Like every other human being, I've heard the song at least a hundred times this year, and I'm still not really sure what Usher is singing about. Something about a club and a girl, I think? The thing is, when producer Lil' Jon's springy keyboard riff and bass-boom-plus-handclap-beat implants itself into your spine, and he starts screaming randomly in the background ("Watch out!" "Let's go!" "YEAH!"), nothing else even matters. Even the put-out-or-get-out misogyny of rapper Ludacris' verse gets a pass, because just when he starts to get annoying, Lil' Jon comes back with the beat that makes your booty go thwack!
Though Usher is the headliner at the first FedExForum concert Friday, September 17th, Kanye West might be the show. His debut, The College Dropout, still sounds as great and compelling as it did when it came out early this year: smart, funny, beatwise, prickly, personal, ambitious, and oh-so-self-conscious. His claim to be "the first nigga with a Benz and a backpack" came across as arrogant and/or corny to many. It's both of those things but also grounded in truth. West really is something new under the sun, critiquing commercial hip-hop's conspicuous consumption from within the belly of the beast and never getting too preachy about it. He's a serviceable rapper and a fine producer, but ultimately his greatest strength is as an idea man. There's more content to chew over on The College Dropout than on just about every other gold or platinum hip-hop album this year combined. And West's energetic if scattered live medley at the MTV Video Music Awards suggests he might translate pretty well on the concert stage. Christina Milian, of the truly filthy sex-instructional hit "Dip It Low," opens the show.
The Forum gears up again the next night for something totally different: Country co-headliners Martina McBride and Alan Jackson. As far as artistic image is concerned, McBride and Jackson come across as perhaps the most decent representatives that mainstream country music has to offer. Jackson played uniter-not-divider with his post-9/11 hit "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," and McBride boasts not only one of the genre's great feminist hits with "Independence Day" but helped out on Music City iconoclasts Big & Rich's debut album. And it so happens that McBride and Jackson are responsible for two of my favorite country singles in a year rife with good-to-great ones. McBride's anthemic, electric-guitar-driven "This One's for the Girls" crossed over to soft-rock radio and deserved to cross over even more. Jackson's "Remember When," meanwhile, is one of the most delicate ballads in recent memory, walking a sentimental tightrope without ever losing its emotional balance.
It's hard to imagine many, if any, attending both concerts. And that's a little sad. Because on separate-but-equal nights, it might be one of the best big-concert weekends the city's ever seen. •