Despite big names, Screamfest isn't much of a scream

The Baltimore Sun

You have the biggest names in rap and urban pop sharing a stage, performers whose hits in the past year or so were among the most ubiquitous on radio. The ingredients for a thrilling show seem to be there.

So why was Screamfest '07, which stopped at 1st Mariner Arena on Friday night, so dull? The lineup for the teen-friendly tour included R&B; crooner Lloyd, pop rapper Yung Joc, club-friendly singer T-Pain and the headliners, pop-R&B; singer Ciara and Atlanta rap star T.I.

Each delivered a thin set jammed with snippets of hits and collaborations. The touring franchise -- past headliners have included former child rapper Bow Wow and boy band leader-turned-bedroom crooner Omarion -- featured no dazzling visuals, something you may expect from such a show. Save for a quick shower of sparks here and there and the mini-movie that preceded T-Pain's rowdy set, there was little in the way of set design and special effects. The stage was in the middle of the arena, which was filled mostly with black teenage girls. But it wasn't nearly a sold-out crowd.

Screams were plentiful, to be sure. But the most deafening moments came when Lloyd and Yung Joc stripped off their sleeveless T-shirts, revealing sweaty muscles and tattoos galore. Beyond that, their performances were weak. Lloyd, for instance, seemed more preoccupied with his dance moves, which came straight out of the Michael Jackson book of choreography. He even copied the King of Pop's signature toe stand. But his dancing had to compensate for something: His vocals were strained.

Yung Joc's set was fun but quickly turned corny midway. He stuck to snippets of cuts from his platinum debut, last year's New Joc City, which featured the smash "It's Goin' Down." He was sure to leave his biggest hit toward the end of his rote performance, which included an incongruous sing-along to '70s TV theme songs, namely Good Times and The Jeffersons.

T-Pain jammed his set with snippets of his hits, opening with "I'm Sprung." Backed by two tepid vocalists/hypemen, he still managed to give an energetic show.

Co-headliner Ciara, the only female performer on the tour, delivered a tightly choreographed set that was equal parts burlesque and warmed-over Janet Jackson, circa Rhythm Nation. Flanked by four smooth dancers, the singer gave a businesslike show featuring her smashes "Goodies," "Promise" and "1,2 Step." During her set, she brought onstage up-and-coming teen belter Tiffany Evans, who sang her current urban-pop hit "Promise Ring." A spitfire with a ringing, soulful voice, Evans emanated more charm and personality in her three minutes than Ciara did in an hour.

Backed by just a hypeman, T.I. was his usual swaggering self. For such a small man (he's no more than 5 feet 7 inches tall), he has a towering presence and frequently referred to himself as "king." His latest album, T.I. vs. T.I.P, is disjointed, and fans didn't seem to know the lines to the new songs, such as "You Know What It Is." The responses were more feverish when he breezed through his early albums, particularly last year's multiplatinum King. At times, he was barely audible over the big beats and roaring crowd. It didn't matter, really. By that time, much to the dismay of the ushers, fans had packed the aisles, dancing and lost in the music.

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