Photos by Kelly O

Lil Wayne and T-Pain at KeyArena

If it's been a while since you went to Key- Arena to see a bona fide chart-dominating pop star—in this case, Lil Wayne, self-anointed Best Rapper Alive, for his modestly named I Am Music tour—be warned: The place turns into the biggest, gaudiest, most terrifying high school (or maybe vocational college) ever: the endless looping hallway with kids lined up at the concession stands in barely-not-screaming clusters, the arena itself lit up between acts and looking like an especially flashy pep rally.

The pep-rally effect was only aided by T-Pain's opening set, a circus-themed affair with krumping, miming clowns, fire dancers, stilt walkers, a contortionist, and, of course, midgets (including a stripping midget Britney Spears), but that included T-Pain singing (rather than just choreographed dancing along to his own songs) for only about a fifth of its running time. But, you know, it's T-Pain—everyone is here for the big Auto-Tuned hooks, the hats, the midgets, the circus—who the hell cares if he can sing? (Although he took pains to point out that he, in fact, can sing.)

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Reviews of Lil Wayne's live shows give the impression that they tend to be either fire-breathing, crowd-slaying triumphs or weed-addled, half-assed rambles. Sunday's show wasn't the relentless, cough-syrup-savant freestyle that one may have hoped for (I realized last night that mixtapes, not live concerts, are the medium for Lil Wayne fans who geek out more over his lyrics than his abs). Wayne's backing rock band, who played on perilously dangling platforms suspended from the ceiling that raised and lowered throughout the night, sometimes drowned out his raspy rapping with some throwaway guitar solo, and his ADD set meant that a few songs got only one chorus or verse, if that. (After hyping the crowd to the opening bars of "Swagga Like Us" as part of a "feature-off" with T-Pain, who had rolled out on a Segway for the contest to see who had the most/best guest appearances of 2008, Wayne informed the crowd that he had so much swagger, he didn't even have to do a verse, and the song promptly stopped.) Still, the show was more on the on-fire side than not (speaking of fire, Wayne, every bit the rock star, had mad pyrotechnic plumes flaming up throughout his set, culminating with him shooting a motherfucking flame thrower toward the crowd).

Wayne is a perfectly goofy and fun and talented performer, and despite interludes to introduce his Young Money associates (including Degrassi High actor/rapper Drake), duet with Keri Hilson, sit and play guitar and mumble like an instantly blind bluesman, and give his DJ a break, the hour-and-a-half set never really lagged. And the closing one-two punch of "Lollipop" (which actually sounded pretty good live, even after radio flogged it to death) and the unstoppable "A Milli" (crowd screaming punch lines: "Orville Redenbacher!" "Goblin!") was inspired even if it was also expected. Lil Wayne left the stage (via trapdoor, naturally) to a clip of the TV show Martin followed by The Bodyguard's "I Will Always Love You," a perfectly idiosyncratic exit for the world-conqueringly weird rapper. recommended

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