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Review: Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Travis Barker at 1st Mariner Arena March 20

Contributor Jay Trucker reviews Lil Wayne and friends, who performed on the third stop of the rapper's "I Am Still Music" tour at 1st Mariner Arena Sunday.

There were hip hop heads, multicolor-haired teen girls, a smattering of middle-aged folks, awkwardly bobbing along, and at least one young girl with "I <3 Lil Wayne" painted on her face.

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Yes, the crowd at Lil Wayne's concert at 1st Mariner Arena Sunday was as diverse as the show's line-up.

During the four-hour, sold-out concert, Wayne delivered to all demographics with his trademark spitfire rapping and a rotating series of guests that included not just the announced headliners - Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Travis Barker - but also new protege Porcelain Black, Mix Master Mike, Lil Twist, and Wale.

Unannounced opener Porcelain Black took the stage at roughly 7 p.m., playing a short set to a mostly empty arena. Known also as Alaina Beaton, Porcelain is Wayne's newest discovery. She is equal parts Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga, and finished her set with a single that proudly declares, "This is What Rock n Roll Looks Like." I respectfully disagree. 

Travis Barker got on stage shortly after and discussed global economics and the worsening situation in Libya. Just kidding. He played the drums. From inside the speakers of a boombox-themed set-piece. Joining him was Mix Master Mike, of Beastie Boys fame. Their roughly 40-minute instrumental set showed off new material from Barker's solo album "Give The Drummer Some" and Mike's remixed hip hop classics.

While a few people danced in the aisles - the arena was just beginning to fill - it was clear that this opening act was better suited for segues between performances rather than as a full set.

Rick Ross came on next and proceeded to deliver the most consistent and well-received set of the night. Standing in front of a gigantic poster of himself, Ross had the, by then at-capacity arena, on its feet and moving as he ran through old and new tracks. He also brought out Wale, who guested on "No Hands" and stayed for the rest of the set, and DJ Khaled, who performed single "All I Do Is Win."

Ross' stage demeanor was confident and agreeable, perhaps because, as he mentioned 46 times during his set, he is "self made," a plug, no doubt, for his upcoming compilation album of the same name.

Wayne emerged later from underneath the stage, sporting sunglasses, a blue hat, skinny jeans hanging just above his knees and a surprisingly ornate blue kerchief. Behind him was a three-tier stage with LCD screens that had dancers on the third floor, a DJ booth on the second and space for his band on the first.

He was all energy while he delivered his trademark raspy, fast-as-lightning lyrics. Female ninja dancers joined the band during "Got Money," an early set highlight. Wayne was at his best when he performed alongside his live band. But when was by himself, he resorted to interacting with the crowd with empty platitudes, like when he told them he owed his fame to Tupac, Nate Dogg, and Michael Jackson.

The crowd was on its feet for the first portion of his set, but their collective energy level ebbed during the rest of the guest-studded two-hour show.

Lil Twist, a young rapper who is only nominally more lil than Wayne, joined the headliner on stage for a pair of songs that culminated on the Packers-themed "Green and Yellow." Wayne later exited the stage for a two-song set by a female protege he referred to as Shanell.

This slowed down the pace of the show considerably even after Wayne returned, which left Nicki Minaj to prop up the restless audience.

She emerged in typical fashion, wearing a skin-tight white and pink catsuit with a blond beehive (a tribute to Denise Whiting, perhaps?), and with her own hype man, a full set of dancers, and a female DJ tagging along.

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Minaj's presence was as varied as her multiple personalities, oscillating from smiley and friendly to angry shouting. She donned a white wedding dress during "Right Thru Me." She also performed a shortened version of "Bottoms Up," then gave a guy from the crowd a short lap dance. Her set ended with a costumed performance of "Monster."

Throughout, her delivery was solid and easier to decipher than Wayne's, but as a new artist best known for guesting on other people's songs, her portion of the show was not met with the same enthusiasm as Wayne or Ross.

She returned to the stage once more later, to join Wayne for "Roger That" and the Flintstones-themed single "BedRock."

Frequent Wayne collaborator Birdman joined the party too, trading lyrics with Wayne during "Money to Blow" and two additional tracks. When Wayne told the crowd that he had been performing Drake's "Miss Me" during this tour to commemorate his release from jail, it was clear that the night was nearing its finale.

A shortened version of smash single "Lollipop" followed. Wayne played guitar on the next song, "Prom Queen" and finished the set with "Drop the World." He returned shirtless for one encore, the Harry Belafonte- sampling "6 Foot 7 Foot," before leaving the stage the same way he came in over two hours earlier.

Between frequent guest appearances, elaborate stage design, and the full Minaj set in the middle of the show, the "I Am Still Music" show is a sensory assault that felt overly busy at times, though Wayne was an enthusiastic host for the duration of the evening, grinning widely and playing to all parts of the arena from the show's beginning to end.

Jay Trucker is a frequent contributor to Midnight Sun. He teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk and blogs occasionally at WNST.net. He last wrote for the blog about barhopping in Canton. Erik Maza edited this post.  

Photo: Lil Wayne performing at 1st Mariner Arena March 20 (Colby Ware/Special to the Sun)

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