Concert Review: Friday Jams Live 2019 – Western Springs Stadium, November 17, 2019

Friday Jams Live 2019 tried its best to live up to the hype of being New Zealand’s biggest RNB party, bringing 10 local and international acts to Western Springs Stadium yesterday, where sound issues and mixed energy plagued an otherwise perfect Sunday music festival.

Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

The last time I visited Western Springs for a music festival was 2018’s Auckland City Limits – a legendary day which showed how brilliantly ideal that space is for a large, sprawling music festival. Friday Jams Live 2019 felt similarly put together, albeit with a slightly rushed feel – one central stage at the opposite end of the venue to the entrance and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it set lengths meant a majority of attendees missed out on the first few performances of the day.

SISQO, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

On the controversial side, the length of many sets – which saw J-Kwon, Savage, Scribe, Keri Hilson, Sisqó, and Brandy all relegated to 20-minute-or-less performances – was a mixed success. The benefit of those short performances meant that the crowd received a fan-favourite, greatest-hits setlist, but much of this felt pointless due to the wildly inconsistent sound mixing. Brandy, in particular, spent her time on stage during her first two songs barely audible, visibly frustrated at pouring so much energy into a performance that hardly anyone could hear.

Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

Festival gates opened at 3 p.m. and the venue felt generously filled by the time I arrived about half an hour later. It was an absolutely glorious morning and afternoon – which blessed the venue with dry ground for the entire day – and despite some warnings of potentially gig-ruining rain later on in the evening the weather managed to hold out to ensure a largely enjoyable atmosphere.

Terrace and Field gates opened at 3:50 p.m. which felt dangerously close to the 4 p.m. opening set by J-Kwon, though the majority of attendees managed to navigate their way through the labyrinthian and poorly staffed sectioned areas to get a decent spot for the concert. Following a five-minute delay in the set – never a good sign – Clint Roberts of ZM’s ‘ZM Drive’ took to the stage and introduced J-Kwon with the panicked energy of a school kid giving a class speech.

J-Kwon, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

J-Kwon burst onto the stage with phenomenal energy, which was an absolute delight for the early attendees who made it into the viewing area, smashing out You & Me, a quick-fire double-act of Hot In Herre and Right Thurr, and his much-anticipated Tipsy. For a fifteen-minute set, J-Kwon succeeded in pouring high-energy throughout the crowd immediately, which again took a nosedive when Clint returned to the stage to continue his hosting duties as though he was allergic to being charismatic.

Scribe, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

I’ll get this out of the way now to avoid sounding like a broken record, but was he not prepared for hosting a live gig? I get that he was most likely trying to do his best, and was perhaps thrown by a late arrival from official host, Fatman Scoop, but if you follow up a performance by 50 Cent with a callback to an earlier set by Scribe with ‘How about Scribe? The king of hip-hop is back! – gulp – The king of New Zealand hip-hop is back!’ then there’s no way you won’t get called out for it, although it can’t be worse than his initial on-stage remark of ‘If Scribe can get sober and back on this stage, then anyone can’ – I get what he was trying to say, but what a phenomenally unforgivable mistake in wording.

By the end of Friday Jams, much of the crowd surrounding me were yelling obscenities and that nobody cared about what he was saying, which admittedly is saddening because – even with a struggling delivery – you could see that he was trying to hold it together. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to provide the essential transitionary cohesion to the festival that would have elevated it to a completely different level.

Savage, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

On the positive side, back-to-back sets by Savage, Scribe, and Keri Hilson absolutely floored the crowd. Savage dominated the stage with his rich, smooth vocals during Moonshine and Swing, while Scribe gave a slightly stunted performance – opening with Not Many and backed by DJ P-Money – which felt marred by a wildly polarised speech to the crowd. Scribe is six months sober – fantastic – and dedicated Dreaming to the victims of the Christchurch Mosque Attacks, but also mentioned he’d ‘been to jail and fuckin’ liked it’ which seemed mind-bogglingly contradictory in tone, before closing with an acapella of classic karaoke tune, The Gambler.

Keri Hilson, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

Keri Hilson was an absolute knockout, arriving through an energy-injection of heavy bass and stalking across the stage with infinite confidence as she smashed out Knock You Down. Addressing the crowd with admiration and a story of how she’d rushed from the airport in 20 minutes just to get to the stage, Hilson followed with Pretty Girl Rock – a song she prefaced with a mention of loving your beautiful, inner self.

Sisqó and Brandy followed, with the former delivering the first of the event’s excellently choreographed dance performances and absolutely flooring the crowd with a highlight brief cover of It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World which left me speechless at his vocal power and capacity, before closing out with Thong Song and his – despite the earlier misconception – best-selling hit, Incomplete.

Brandi, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

Brandy’s initial entry to the stage, epitomising joyous confidence and charisma, instantly drained as she spent Freedom Rings and Baby barely audible, with the sound technician scrambling to find a fix. Thankfully, through Best Friend, I Wanna Be Down, and all the way to closing hit, The Boy Is Mine, that initial complication was fixed – though damn if it didn’t force the performer to dial up her energy into overdrive just to compensate.

Jason Derulo, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

Jason Derulo arrived for the first hour-long set of the day, filling the stage with dancers and spectacular pyrotechnics through Watcha Say, Wiggle, Tip Toe, and Ridin’ Solo. Derulo was pouring pure sex over the crowd with his highly physical performance – stripping his shirt off into Talk Dirty and closing Want to Want Me to the screams of front-row fans. It was another notch up in energy for the day as a whole, with the high-energy sex-pop set preparing the stadium for the arrival of 50 Cent.

50 Cent, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

Opening with Patiently Waiting and What Up Gangsta, 50 Cent was everything I expected him to be on stage. Perfectly controlled, boasting an air of untouchable confidence in every way he moved around the stage and addressed the crowd, it was P.I.M.P., Big Rich Town, and Magic Stick that had almost the entire front section of the stadium waving their arms, jumping up and down, and grooving to his words.

Midway through his set, 50 Cent removed himself from stage while his supporting musicians took a smoke break to fill the front section of the crowd with clouds of weed, returning shortly after for Ayo Technology and In Da Club. I couldn’t tell whether the decision was due to his highly valuable and bankable public image, or simply because he wanted to grab another jaw-dropping jacket to wear before throwing into the crowd. Regardless of the reason, his set felt like the first heavy, raw, and dirty performance of the night, which managed to spark the excitement in the rest of the crowd for the undeniable highlight of the day, Black Eyed Peas.

Black-Eyed Peas, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

Accompanied by new member, J Rey Soul, Black Eyed Peas emerged on stage to Let’s Get It Started and barely let the crowd take a breath. This was the clear peak of energy for the crowd, as Boom Boom Pow and Pump It had almost everyone in my immediate vicinity jumping into each other and pumping their hands in the air. It was that moment of pure, joyous festival love for positive vibes and danceable music which, in the end, is really what yesterday was all about.

Just Can’t Get Enough and Don’t Stop the Party prefaced a heart-warming address to the crowd about how everyone they know loves New Zealand, backed by the slow, creeping strings of Where Is The Love. It was that gives-you-chills moment, which handled beautifully – ‘Everybody has problems, it seems to me that this country just has the least problems. So I salute all the love that’s here, and this song, that we have, is dedicated to not only the whole world, but looking at the whole world through a New Zealand perspective to say ‘Where Is The Love’ – before closing with absolute crowd-rager, I Gotta Feeling, as the group threw out t-shirts into the waving and screaming audience.

Janet Jackson, Perth Show, photo supplied

Closing the night was Janet Jackson, who I have to admit killed me a little bit inside. There were reports from her recent concerts that she had been accused of quite obviously lip-syncing, which were undeniably on display last night as well. Funnily enough, this isn’t the problem I had with the performance.

I mean, I get it, Jackson isn’t a 20-year-old ball of sugar-high energy and you can’t eat your cake and have it too. So, we could settle for a solo, standing-still performance from one of pop music’s greatest choreograph artists, or we could settle for a lip-synced performance. Personally, I’d rather take the latter, but where the set took an absolute nosedive was in the audio balancing.

Janet Jackson, Perth Show, photo supplied

You can’t have live vocals at a completely different volume from your recorded vocals during a sync performance, not just because it makes the whole thing obvious and tears apart the illusion, but because it just makes the whole set sound absolutely nightmarish. Jackson was giving it her best, and credit has to go to her physical performance – even immediately taken aback by her lack of live vocals, I have to respect that she put on a brilliant physical display of dance choreography.

If only, as she mentioned to the crowd, there was a little more love in the world to just be appreciative of seeing these artists, maybe she wouldn’t have felt the need to balance that out with a recorded set. I left Jackson’s set early to walk to the top of the hill and see if the sound – and crowd – looked any better from the new perspective, but sadly it didn’t. I stayed until the end of her set, but it seemed to end with a whimper, not a bang represented by the wild stage pyrotechnics, which left a low-energy atmosphere clinging to the dispersing attendees.

Friday Night Jams, Photo by Chris Zwaagdyk

At the end of the night, with the crowd pouring out and completely drained of energy, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about the gig as a whole. I guess really, it was a perfect encapsulation of a New Zealand radio show – filled with hit songs by artists you love, hosted with occasionally bland and cringe-worthy dialogue, and forcing your heart to ricochet between falling in love and wanting to bleach much of the experience from your brain – and just left me hoping next year has the wisdom to include the best parts of yesterday with none of the nightmare.

~Oxford Lamoureaux

Listen to Radio NZ’s Jesse Mulligan interview Oxford about his review here:

13th Floor photographer Chris Zwaagdyk was there shooting throughout the event. Click on any image to view a full-size, massive gallery of photos of all the artists.

Brandy Setlist
Intro / Freedom Rings
Best Friend
I Wanna Be Down
Sittin’ Up in My Room
What About Us
Boy Is Mine

Jason Derulo Setlist
Watcha Say
Tip Toe
Ridin’ Solo
Marry Me
In My Head
Talk Dirty
Want To Want Me

50 Cent Setlist
Patiently Waiting
What Up Gangsta
I Get Money
Big Rich Town
Magic Stick
Many Men
I’m The Man
How We Do
Hate It Or Love It
Just A Lil Bit
Candy Shop
Disco Inferno
*Smoke Break*
Ayo Technology
In Da Club
It Hit Different
Window Shopper
Beat The Pussy Up
21 Questions
Best Friend

Black Eyed Peas Setlist
Let’s Get It Started
Boom Boom Pow
Pump It
I’m Jey Rey Soul
Just Can’t Get Enough
Don’t Stop the Party
The Time
Where Is the Love
I Gotta Feeling