Lil Wayne in limbo: One night at the Orpheum

Just over 10 months ago, Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. suffered two minor seizures on his private jet after a performance at UW-Milwaukee Summer Jam. As be returned to Wisconsin on Saturday night for the second date of the Kloser 2 U tour — complete with Favre jersey and some simple gold chains — Wayne’s health scares seemed furthest from his mind as he tended to a sold-out Orpheum crowd.

Throughout the evening, the air felt much more like this Wayne exhibition was “something to do” rather than “the thing to do” in Madison that night. (When listening closely, one heard whispers of no-show potential, considering his missed Target Center show two weeks prior after an issue with his private jet forced him to remain on the ground.) It was filled to the brim with the expected sea of twentysomethings that likely came in around Carter III when Wayne was untouchable — or during his mixtape spree before that — counting themselves among the ready and willing to share a blunt with the martian as the tour bus loomed around State Street all day.

There’s also the balance of older couples (across races) who can recall across the two decades of Wayne’s career, though it was easy to tell the mismatches in which one partner wanted to be there more than the other. A prime example: a portly gentleman in a purple shirt who dozed in his seat several times before Wayne took the stage, prompting an older friend of mine to pose by him for a picture, citing how the napping man wanted to be here less than he did. (My older friend brought his lady and had no interest whatsoever.)

The show started with a half-hour set by G.O.O.D. Music’s CyHi The Prynce, a veteran who’s gone underrated for his skill despite being one of several people behind Kanye West’s lyrics. CyHi powered through an array of mixtape cuts, complete with a mini-G.O.O.D. hit parade capped by “So Appalled” — the very song he stole from Hov, Pusha T and Ye with the hunger of a man who finally got his shot even though he didn’t get much bigger from there. He cited this tour opener slot as confirmation of his place as one of the best to ever do it; judging from the lukewarm reception, it’s clear the crowd hadn’t thumbed through the catalog (or the liner notes) to figure that out. It makes one wonder if CyHi showed up a decade late, coming across as a lost relic who may have served the game better a decade before he surfaced.

As Wayne promptly took stage at 9:30, he greeted the crowd with a lowkey contention signaling gratefulness for his fans’ continued support through an ongoing Birdman battle and several other media faux pas. He had a drummer and a DJ, complete with flashing YM and TRUKFIT logos beneath his podium. Before starting with “Mr. Carter,” we heard a soundbyte of Wayne saying “Make some noise for what you’ve created.” That registered much more eerily than usual. He came on with two Young Money flags in the backdrop like a new regime was taking hold of the Orpheum, complete with two prop walls tagged with “GANG” and “SQUAD” respectively.

“I ain’t put out an album in like four fuckin’ decades and y’all singing to the shit!” Wayne said in a humbled growl. After telling the crowd to watch themselves around the child in the front row, he glided through post-Carter III hits with an ease that came across more reserved than electrifying. In fact, due to an odd vocal mix that put Wayne a bit lower than he should’ve been, blended with the awkwardness of the drummer/DJ combo that felt more extra than necessary, the whole show moved in a subdued whimper. He was hard to hear throughout, he took the one-verse approach to most of his catalog, and it felt like plenty was left on the table as the show blazed by in a flash before we could settle in.

As Wayne held court for 60 minutes — no more, no less — the night’s most intriguing moments weren’t of Wayne’s doing, but of his orchestration. As one who grew up in the very mixtape era — official and unofficial and leaked versions galore — hearing Mack Maine show up for “Every Girl” and reliving his suspect line about wanting Miley Cyrus when she’s legal dumbfounded me just as much as how little everyone around me was dumbfounded by seeing him appear straight from 2007. In fact, I shouted “Bitch, I’m Mack Maaiiiiiiiiiiiine!” like it was 2007… no one understood what I meant.

Wayne also threw shine to three new Young Money acts, who were all on stage for 60 seconds each. The first act was like a New Orleans-imported Rae Sremmurd clone called Vice Versa, their song sounding like a cloned “No Flex Zone” down to the inflection. The next act rapped a bit like Meek Mill, receiving a better reception with a better beat. The final act swayed across the stage and sounded like Rick Ross, but received the best reception and even had Wayne to flank him for his entire verse.

Then, Gudda Gudda appeared in a Nirvana hoodie, conjuring my eternal rap nerd that remembers the FILNOBEP sketches of scenarios just like this and infuriating me that “BedRock” wasn’t performed so we could hear “And I got her, nigga… grocery bag” for the culture. Again, I turn to a sea of my peers, seeking confirmation in my audible fury. Nothing. Then I remembered… I still keep a functional iPod classic in my pocket full of mixtapes from 2007 and felt very old in my youth.

That’s the double-edged sword of a Lil Wayne show in 2017 — a time where Tha Carter V is still on lockdown and Wayne doesn’t really understand what Black Lives Matter is for. It’s not an opportunity to reinvent anything, but to bathe in one’s nostalgia however they may see fit. If you want Mixtape Weezy, he’ll do “Ride 4 My Niggas” and make you feel untouchable again. If you came for the classics, he’ll reprise “Go DJ” and “Back That Azz Up.” Even “No Problem,” a three-verse rap song in the land of two-verse attention spans, got one of the biggest reactions of the night as testament to Wayne’s staying power no matter the generation. But it makes one remember: Drake and Nicki sell the arenas out now, and Chano’s priming himself to follow suit. The proteges have surpassed the master in stature, which results in displays like this that feel more like money grabs than fine-tuned celebrations of one’s achievements.

Wayne’s 34 years of age feel older than most because he’s been omnipresent to us; his best tours and eras may be far behind him by now. The spectacle forces the fan to reconcile with themselves as well: perhaps we’re the washed ones who can’t keep up, preparing ourselves for the final bow. Nothing changed at the Orpheum that night, but one can only hope he’s saving the victory lap for his vindication from the ills of Cash Money Records, where dreams turned to nightmares.

Setlist:

Mr. Carter
Got Money
I’m Goin’ In’
John
Believe Me
Love Me
Rich As Fuck
Go DJ
HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)
Lollipop
Mrs. Officer
Every Girl (feat. Mack Maine)
The Motto
Back That Azz Up
[Young Money Showcase — three new acts and a Gudda Gudda appearance]
Swag Surf
Rollin’
Ride 4 My Niggas
Wasted
I’m Me
Drop The World
Steady Mobbin’
No Frauds
A Milli
No Problem
No Worries