Words by: Stephanie Jacoby | Images by: Michael Park
Wyclef Jean :: 01.25.07 :: The Tabernacle :: Atlanta, GA
The first time I saw Wyclef Jean was July of 2005 at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. The show changed my life. I was never a huge hip-hop fan and Wyclef's music really spoke to me. His performance seemed so effortless, and I was simply enthralled with his vivacious personality and his ability to parlay that into such an energetic show.
His recent concert at The Tabernacle was a benefit for Usher's New Look Foundation, a charity that recently donated money to Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans. The show was also part of Clef's national tour to promote his new album, Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant, a sequel to his first solo effort, The Carnival, which catapulted him to international stardom after The Fugees disbanded in 1997.
Carnival II showcases a veritable who's who in hip-hop and pop culture including Akon, Will.i.am (Black Eyed Peas), Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Norah Jones and Paul Simon, as well as rookies Melissa Jimenez and Niia. Wyclef is a young, Haitian version of Col. Bruce Hampton who puts lesser-known artists at the forefront, thereby giving them exposure, while he subtly works around them.
Usher was the first surprise of the evening as he introduced his foundation and offered many thanks to the audience for their participation. His speech was quickly followed by a masked Wyclef, who sat down at the piano to play an intro to "Riot," the first song on his new album, followed by "Welcome To The East," which slowly warmed up the initially stoic crowd.
A truly gifted, humble performer, Wyclef played guitar with his teeth, scaled the balconies to sing from the top of the venue and performed a choreographed dances with his bad ass body guard, but not before he introduced Niia and pulled surprise guest Akon onstage to perform the radio hit "Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)."
The main difference between this show and the one I attended in New York in 2005 was the amount of radio play Wyclef has accumulated since then. With collaborations on hits like "Hips Don't Lie" and "Dangerous," Wyclef has really taken on new levels of popularity among mainstream music fans. And because he works with so many different artists, the live performance is somewhat at a loss. He rapped and freestyled over Lauryn Hill, Shakira and Chamillionaire's recorded voices and at those moments the show could have very well be titled: "Wyclef's Sing-Along."
Oddly enough, some of the highlights came from Wyclef show staples like Carnival album medleys "Guantanamera" and "Stayin' Alive." They succeed because he wrote, produced and performed these tracks himself. These cuts don't need a mega-celebrity singer to work either creatively or commercially. It was a little disappointing when he quickly zipped through a few Fugee songs and covers of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" and "Redemption Song."
Having been born and raised in Miami, Florida, I have a very high regard for music with Latin flair, so I was deeply excited when Clef closed the show with "Carnival Jam," the second movement from "Touch Your Button" on Carnival II. He was able to convert this four-minute jam into 20 minutes of absolute craziness, where he climbed to the third floor of The Tabernacle and carefully walked along the railing. Imploring every single person in the room to remove a shirt, tie, hat or jacket, he had everyone waving their "rags" by the end of the show. It was like a carnival celebration straight out of Trinidad or Brazil, though the 37-degree weather outside was most certainly not.
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