The pitiful disorganization in the five-hour marathon of a show Thursday night at the Alliant Energy Center bottomed out right around 10:30 p.m. as two shrieking announcers killed time by pumping the meager crowd for headliner Sean Kingston.
How many ways can a crowd get pumped up? Well, it's safe to say that when the pumpers are exhorting the pumpees for various area codes ("Where the 608s at? Let's hear it for the 414s!"), the limit's been stretched as far as it will go.
Kingston's performance wasn't much better. The Jamaican-American singer brought no accompaniment besides his producer, DJ Kelo, and spent much of his 30-minute set singing over backing track vocals. He often ran out of breath and just let the backing vocals fill in.
Back-up singers, a band and an inspired DJ could have made Kingston's slickly produced music come alive onstage, but instead it came off like a high school talent show with better lights. Kelo did little more than play the tracks straight, ending most with the booming sound effect of glass breaking and clattering. Sometimes he hit that button a few times in a row for emphasis -- boom-clatter! boom-clatter! boom-clatter! -- making the scene just a little sadder.
Kingston made his first radio hit "Beautiful Girls" two years ago and did it again this past summer with the inescapable and catchy club anthem "Fire Burning." In a weird, pseudo-humble monologue in the third person ("Sean Kingston is 19-years-old"), he alluded to divining hit songs from a higher power.
"I'm a godly person so you know I'm not gonna be a one-hit wonder," he said.
God, are you out there? Please get this kid a better live show. Oh, but world peace first! Yeah, maybe that's more important than granting Top 40 wishes to the godly.
Kingston's disappointing set was the last in a litany of fumbles. The show started more than 90 minutes past the listed start time, maybe in a wait-and-see for the crowd that never showed. A security guard estimated afterward that 1,200 people bought tickets, at most, but the crowd ebbed throughout the show. The 10,000-capacity venue dwarfed the few hundred on the floor at any given time.
DJ Heathen out of Milwaukee tried valiantly to keep the crowd entertained with radio hits and shout-outs. Between delays ("Twista's gotta get some things together") and mind-numbing pleas to "make some noise," he introduced all seven openers that trouped on and off stage.
Even the JAMZ 93.1 banner on the DJ table seemed exhausted by the excessive number of openers -- it kept falling down and needed fixing several times. The manager for the New Boyz, the two little dudes behind the mindless Cool Kids-wannabe jam "You're a Jerk," yawned gape-mouthed onstage behind them over and over.
Both Gorilla Zoe and Twista, who should have headlined the show, required bodyguards no farther than three feet behind them at all times, presumably to hawk over their Big Gulp-sized medallions. The scowling bodyguards doubled as human bling-racks when the necklaces got too cumbersome for the rappers.
Nimble-tongued Twista spilled his verses out at auctioneer speeds and swelled the crowd to its largest. It was the most energetic show of the night, at least comparatively speaking and tempered by the hours of waiting, and a rare treat for hip-hop fans in Madison.
The lyrics to Twista's recent song "Wetter" ("I need a daddy, daddy/ Come and be my daddy, daddy") made a father sitting with his teenaged daughter in front of me slouch down in disgust. After mumbling a few protests, he finally yelled "Get off the stage!" before jamming his baseball cap over his eyes and sinking deeper in his seat, and in that moment I can't say I blamed him.
Special mention in this mess should go to the Rockford teen dance squad, Fatally Unique, who had more stage presence and showmanship than most of the performers Thursday night combined. From their coordinated '80s zombie outfits to their sharp hip-hop choreography, they nailed it.