Live: B.o.B Shows Flashes Of Megastardom At The Bowery Ballroom

B.o.B w/Lauriana Mae
Bowery Ballroom
Tuesday, November 29

Better than: Living in New Jersey. (Joking, Taylor Ham aficionados!)

9:56 p.m.: "He represents Atlanta, ladies and gentlemen... He's sold like a million records and like 15 million downloads... He's had a Grammy nomination... It's B.o.B!" So last night's headliner was introduced NYC by radio jock Peter Rosenberg, seconds before the young ATLien took to the stage for a sold-out show.

9:55 p.m.: "We have some very special guests in the house tonight, and I mean very special!" Rosenberg, barely a minute earlier, promising some big-name titillation. Rapper guests at live shows are nothing new these days, but his teaser cut to the heart of B.o.B's dilemma—he's a successful rapper, but he works better in the company of bigger-name collaborators, not so much riding coattails as doing his best dances on them. And so it was last night.

9:57 p.m. onwards: On stage, B.o.B is a strange one. He sported a black leather biker jacket, gold chains and sometimes shades, but any allusions toward coolness disappeared when he decided to bop like a chicken, elbows askew and moving awkwardly in and out of his body. He performed in front of a small band—drummer, bass player, keyboardist—but when you throw in three backing singers, who were there to take up the slack on his guest-heavy hits that in recorded form rely on Hayley Williams, Bruno Mars and Rivers Cuomo, the setup cramped the stage. Instead of a grand spectacle, it downsized B.o.B; his shows aren't stadium-status spectacles like 'Ye and Jay's, but then he also exists above the indie grind.

Last night, B.o.B aired out a series of gimmicks to progress through his set. After an opening gambit the included "Batman Flow" and "Haters Everywhere," he declared that he was getting all amped up and rowdy for "Beast Mode." But it was less exhilarating than it promised; he never spilled over and lost control. Instead, he asked the crowd if we wanted to see him play his guitar. Some responded positively—but the end result largely seemed to involve him sitting down and not actually playing his guitar much. He then dabbled with asking everyone in the crowd to put their shades on—sunglasses being the most vital thing we leave the apartment with on a miserable rainy Tuesday night in NYC, after all—and asked fans to hold up their cellphones in lieu of lighters and, as his DJ put it, "if it's got a flash light on it, put it on." (If B.o.B ever happens across a crowd where someone owns a relatively retro Kyocera K9, which comes with a more-brilliant-than-the-sun flashlight, he'll quickly revoke this part of the act.) None of these attempts at adding shifts to the show really worked; instead, they came off as preamble for that "very special guest," which was held over our heads like a luminous lure.

10:51 p.m.: The "very special guest" entered from stage left. It was T.I., sporting an oversized backpack with a brand name that I suspect was a notch above JanSport. The crowd went bat-shit crazy for him: More cellphones were raised to snap pics than for B.o.B's "Satellite," and they responded more enthusiastically to his banter than any of B.o.B's own crowd interactions. T.I. and B.o.B performed "Bet I" together, before the young 'un graciously left the stage for T.I. to run through his new single "I'm Flexin'." While rapping "Bet I," B.o.B suddenly became animated, interacted with T.I. as an equal, and resembled for all the world a real-deal rap superstar. He may not in their orbit yet, but he thrives when he hangs with them.

Once T.I. departed, B.o.B's own high point on the night came with a near-finale performance of "Magic," wherein he invited three young white girls on to the stage—one of whom hopped around apoplectically—and then a guy who danced funny and another who wore a plaid shirt. The scene on stage brought to mind an earlier moment in the show, when the opening act's host, Kwame, asked which area of NYC the various factions of the crowd hailed from. He threw in "New Jersey" after dutifully running through the five boroughs, and received the largest cheer of the night. He quipped, "Did Jersey just beat Brooklyn?" It was a fitting quirk for B.o.B's show: His status is such that he'll likely sell out an NYC venue like the Bowery for a good many years, but right now his crowd is drawn from the other side of the Hudson. There's probably a snobby metaphor in there, too.

Critical bias: I was in a grouchy mood after Mac Miller's infernal "Party On Fifth Avenue" was played before B.o.B's set.

Overheard: "That was awesome!", exclaimed in reaction to the short set performed by the opening act, Lauriana Mae. As Atlantic Records' newest signing, Mae is the producer Kwame's attempt to tap into the "white girl who kinda sings like an old black woman" trend. But what the heck do I know—I thought Cree Summer and Imani Coppola might appeal to the hip-hop crowd, too. (Coppola even had a Prince Paul remix!)

Random notebook dump: "Why can't they just screen a couple of episodes of Parks And Recreation instead of the tiresome rigamarole of the half-assed warm-up DJ?"

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