Friday Jams ft: Christina Milian, Mario, Kelis, Ne-Yo, Craig David and Sean Paul – Spark Arena October 22, 2017

The 13th Floor’s Kate Powell spent her Sunday night with Friday Jams at Auckland’s Spark Arena. Photographer Reuben Raj provides the visuals…

Philosophers suggest that nostalgia has coincided with revolution, because during a time of tumultuous change we like to cling to a never-changing past. The soft warm glow that comes with nostalgia gives us a sense of psychological well-being; it soothes our existential fears and quashes our loneliness with shared familiarity.

Sound familiar?

In a world characterised by socio-political uncertainity for an entire generation, the digital revolution is ideally suited to share and trigger nostalgia. Google and various “share” buttons have given us countless ways to revisit the old.

As a result, nostalgia has become a cash cow on an unprecedented level.
Within popular culture, the past is being upheld culturally more than the present. Going to a #throwback club night in brand new 90s fashion has become a normal weekend activity. Expressing strong opinions about your favourite childhood film getting a reboot has become a regular brunch conversation. (Jks, we’re too poor for brunch).

ZM jumped onto the nostalgia bandwagon a little under a year ago with its Friday Night Jams segement which paid tribute to R&B artists. It quickly gained a dedicated following which resulted in the Friday Night Jams show, paradoxically on a Sunday at Spark Arena last night.

Featuring Christina Milian, Mario, Kelis, Ne-Yo, Craig David and Sean Paul, it delivered on the promise that it was New Zealand’s biggest R n’ B party on the strength of its names alone. It was the first time to our shores for many of these artists, which only increased the hype among its multi-generational audience.

The new millenium heralded a new era for R&B and there were numerous shifts and developments within the genre during the early to mid 2000s. Sandwiched between the hip-hop and soul infused sound of the 90s and the electronic, heavily produced sound that was popular at the time, ‘aughties’ R&B intertwined sultry sensuality with a playful, collaborative spirit. R&B style permeated mainstream fashion, sports and television, making it a true cultural force of its era. Also, given that it exploded during the rise of the internet and increased sharability, it makes complete sense that for many millenials, it represents the soundtrack to their youth.

Perhaps its nostalgia at work, but at the time, R&B wasn’t my jam. I was far more interested in the garage-rock revival, 80s indie-rock and other generic artsy kid genres and on a deep level that is the music that reminds me of being 16. But neurologists say that because pop music plays so often in the background of our day to day lives whether we select it or not, it has the ability to inadvertently invoke powerful memories. Socials, balls, lunchtimes, first loves and losses, the time your school bullies cornered you in the common room, the first post-high school roadtrip, University parties. They are powerful memories, and I can guarantee if you cast your mind back you’ll subconciously get a song playing in your head.

Bearing this all in mind, it was still a massive trip to walk into Spark Arena to the sight of thousands of people throwing their hands up in the air to Fatman Scoop performing his perpetual banger

Put Your Hands Up. I hadn’t heard it since a very early morning visit to Wellington’s Good Luck bar back in 2012. It put an immediate grin on my face. Scoop was our MC for the evening and he did a spectacular job. His boundless energy was infectious and he was a joy to watch.

Unfortunately I was only able to catch Ne-Yo, Craig David and Sean Paul, and they proved a mixed bag.

With his star power and unquestionable singing ability, Ne-Yo was a clear highlight. Bringing his live band, the Las Vegas singer-songwriter-actor-producer had his entire CV flash up onscreen before appearing onstage to rapterous applause.

Opener So Sick set the tone as he swaggered across the stage pausing every so often to pop and lock (classic aughties) and at one point flashing his abs, which he wiped down with a towel before throwing it into the audience. He knew what the people wanted and was more than happy to oblige. An audience member reciprocated the gesture, throwing a protein bar at him, suggesting that the crowd was hungry for more. Ne-Yo was just getting started.

He commanded the stage with talent and charisma with a career-spanning set. Slow-jam Mad saw him undo one button to a chorus of shrieks, while he showed off his songwriting chops with Beyonce’s Irreplaceable. He then invited two ladies from the audience to dance with him to his new single Push Back, a reggae inspired number that saw both audience members enthusiastically grinding on him. The opening bars of Closer had everyone snapchatting their friends. The energetic performance peaked with plumes of dry ice erupting with the crescendo and he rounded his set off  with Time of Our Lives before tossing his hat into the audience.

Craig David and TS5 were up next. Although starting off life as a DJ some 20 years ago, he found international stardom with his albums Slicker Than Your Average and Born To Do It. TS5 began in David’s Miami home where hosts and DJs weekly parties. These eventually found a following and he now travels the world replicating the house party atmosphere. With just his onstage mixing setup for company, David opened with Re-Wind (The Crowd Say Bo-Selecta). Mixing samples of R&B, Rap, Trap and Electronica, David sang his own material over them and the result was not good. It may have been about “flexing some tunes and putting a new spin on them” but it felt incredibly disjointed. Case in point was when he reworked his classic I’m Walking Away over the instrumentals of Still D.R.E. Seperately, these are great songs, but to force them together just sounds uncomfortable. The beats didn’t  match up, not to mention the awkward coupling of David’s honeyed vocal style with a G-Funk classic. I truly expected better from someone who touts himself as a world class DJ. The attempt to merge Seven Days with Justin Beiber’s Where R U Now was especially tragic. Dressed in a hoodie, what looked like Activewear leggings, and sneakers, David gave the impression that he was about to host a particularly aggressive spin class. It was a real shame, because his vocals were fantastic and he was a gracious performer.

Finally headliner Sean Paul took to the stage. Despite having a host of features in famous songs, his own discography and a live show that consisted of impressive back up dancers, a keytar and energy, the audience still felt “meh.” Which is unfortunate given his legacy as a Dancehall pop pioneer, bringing it into the western mainstream with his single Get Busy in 2003.

As he sang Sia’s Cheap Thrills the crowd seemed confused, which was only amplified by a cover of Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You. Get Busy and Like Glue saw them perk up for a moment at least. Sean Paul and his backup dancers clad in reggae colours were giving it their all and it was sad to watch the crowd be so unresponsive. Bringing out fellow Jamacian artist Chi Ching Ching for Crick Neck and Rock Da World did little to invigorate the audiences rapidly lagging energy after a long night. Sean Paul seemed to recognize this, and with a quick thank you, he was gone.

A hit and miss night of nostalgic audience memory mixing somewhat awkwardly with performers trying to live in the now.

Kate Powell

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Reuben Raj: