Pop audiences in Australia have never really embraced big, outdoor festivals (remember Rumba?), but Paperchase Touring seemed to have found a winning format of late with R&B/urban mini-festivals at Acer Arena such as Supafest and Winter Jam. This time it’s called Winterbeatz, and it boasts Ne-Yo, T-Pain, Outkast’s Big Boi and Fatman Scoop.
Arena doors opened to DJ Nino Brown doing exactly the same thing he does on radio – dropping pre-recorded explosions and effect-heavy phrases over dance-oriented hip-hop. It comes off like a weak imitation of his American counterparts, but it kept the crowd going during the evening’s refreshingly short changovers.
Before long, opener Prinnie came onstage with an entourage of dancers and blasted through a short set of soon-to-be released songs. And while it often came off like Rihanna-lite, it’s refreshing to see an Australian urban artist who doesn’t sound dated. Given the right push, it’s likely that we’ll be hearing more from her.
The same can’t really be said for Phinesse. A Melbourne-based duo, they performed a couple of by-the-numbers R&B jams before running around like hypemen while their DJ played recent pop hits. A strange turn, but it was also far more fun.
Fatman Scoop was the evening’s first well-known artist, and given that he doesn’t actually have any proper songs, he’s a curious live act. His whole career is based on being a hypeman for other performers, and watching him run around stage shouting for a full set doesn’t really work. Certain parts do, though – a bizarre acapella chant of The Bloodhound Gang’s “Fire Water Burn” recurs throughout the set and is both hilarious and entertaining, and his sole hit “Be Faithful” gets the crowd going for the first time all evening.
Big Boi followed with an explosive set of hip-hop – a stark contrast from the more R&B stylings of the other acts. With only 40 minutes to showcase his extensive catalog, he tore through hits from former group Outkast and his new solo record, including “B.O.B.”, “Ms. Jackson”, “Ghetto Musick”, “So Fresh So Clean”, “General Patton” and “Shutterbug”. With just a DJ and a backing MC, his set was direct and energetic, and he didn’t miss a beat on his rapid-fire verses. But the performance was lost on most of the audience, who barely got into it at all. Perhaps he was ill-fitted to the event – lately he seems more popular with indie/specialist audiences, and Australian’s pop markets have always struggled with straight-up hip-hop. A headline show might’ve been a better idea than a pop festival, but nonetheless it was great to finally see him perform on our shores.
The crowd finally filled out the arena for T-Pain, who was greeted with a massive response, showing just how big a drawcard he was on the bill. And he thrilled initially with his part in Kanye West’s “Good Life”, sung wonderfully without any effects – proving that beneath the autotune, he’s a genuinely great singer. Which also made it all the more puzzling when, for the remainder of the set, he ran around the stage shouting the odd word while his music played in the background. Seemingly one step beyond miming, he basically became a hypeman to his own music, very rarely actually performing the songs. It was a bizarre spectacle, only made stranger by the inclusion of two live drummers and an entourage of dancers, who were sometimes great, but other times seemed to have no idea why they were there. The crowd seemed to love it nonetheless, with hits like “Bartender” and “Buy U A Drank” recieving a huge response. But the highlight was an unexpected rendition of The Lonely Island’s viral smash “I’m On A Boat”, which sent the arena into a bemused frenzy.
The biggest excitement of the night was saved for headline Ne-Yo, who responded in turn with the evening’s best set. Sporting a tailored suit and performing with a full live band, he played a more subdued set to great effect, with the focus on his incredible skills as a singer and dancer.
The live band gave a more traditional feel to his songs, drawing attention to just how heavily influenced he is by Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson. In fact, the King of Pop received a tribute early in the set. But the majority of the set belonged to the ladies, whom Ne-Yo playfully addressed between songs, sometimes even handing out roses and champagne to thrilled punters at the front. It could’ve come off as corny, but he has the swagger to pull it off, and it only heightened the audience’s massive response to hits like “Because Of You”, “So Sick”, “Sexy Love”, “Closer” and “Mad”. After an encore of new single “Beautiful Monster”, he left the stage to rapturous applause – with the exception of Big Boi’s underappreciated set, it was the first truly great performance of the evening.
[Photo: Lee-Roy Jason]