Wyclef went where few HOB performers have gone before: the balcony.
Wyclef Jean went bacchanal last night at Cleveland's House of Blues, challenging the record for the most arm-raising in the venue's history, previously held by Ozomatli and the Roots.
The former Fugees frontman and master collaborator displayed another of his many incarnations: the Grand Entertainer. He bounced, back-flipped, crowd-surfed, performed from the audience and on the edge of the balcony, and played a Santana-infused guitar riff with his teeth. He let one young drunk woman take the stage and the mic, dubbing her the new Wyclef and letting her rap an entire verse. ...
And he did it all while wearing a “Wyclef for President” t-shirt, which he got early in the show from a pasty young dude who'd made it for him. (He later repaid the fan by bringing him on stage and giving him a pair of his Nikes). Wyclef’s little sister, Melky Sedeck, also took the stage, sporting a plum-colored fur coat, a Ben Wallace-like 'fro, and a set of pipes you wouldn't believe.
“Play Touch Your Button Carnival Jam” by Wyclef Jean:
Wyclef’s crew had the diverse HOB crowd sweating up the place for two-plus hours. But among the best moments came at the very start of the show. As Wyclef set in, trying to hype up the crowd, he yelled, “Put your lighters up! Put your lighters up!” Two members of the crowd obeyed at first. But even faced with small odds in this Smoking Ban Era, Wyclef didn’t change his tune. He kept on calling for lighters. A smaller man would have asked for cell phones in air instead. But when Wycelf asks for lighters in the air, you best obey. As the French learned long ago, never piss off a Haitian. In a few years, when an MC calls for lighters in the air, he may well be met with muffled confusion. But at least last night, the flames lit up the place.
Wyclef took to the stage wearing a gold-carnival mask with long black feathers. After the stripped-down opener -- a Dave Brubeck piano riff that morphed into "Industry," his ode lost hip-hop idols -- he tossed on his guitar to play his “Gone ‘till November.” After changing into his new President shirt, he busted his popular muse on what he would do if he were Commander in Chief -- “get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, buried on Sunday…” He doesn’t mention in there what he’d do with the current guy in charge, but he made that clear elsewhere in the show, when he repeated, over and over: “Fuck George Bush.”
Guess who was bouncing to the old Fugees tunes?
From his presidential riff, he went on a rock binge, plucking notes in honor of Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix, his two favorite players. The entire night mixed genres, actually, while his DJ spun hip-hop beats from Jay-Z to Wu-Tang Clang transition between songs. Once his little sis Sedeck strutted on stage, a gospel tint was added to the night. Wyclef even got preachy for a bit, stressing to the crowd that he came from the church. “People think Wyclef is just a hip-hop weed smoker,” he said. “But no. Wyclef came from the church.” He dropped the pastor talk for a short set of old Fugee material, a nostalgic nod that had even Mayor Frank Jackson, sitting quietly in a box seat behind the sound guy, bouncing.
Wyclef also broke out new tunes, including radio hit "Sweetest Girl" and “Hollywood meets Bollywood (immigration),” which should be coming to a friend's cell phone near you. And he capped the night with a mash-up of a Caribbean Carnival soca tune. “Take something out. I don’t care what … and wave it above your head!” he hollered. The next 25 minutes were carnival mayhem. People spun caps and shirts and bras and towels in the air, and Wyclef made his way to sing atop the balcony railing. In the background, Mayor Frank Jackson bobbed his head. He was totally down.
When Wyclef finally ended the song, after diving into the crowd and drowning a shot of Patron, the place was too worn out to scream and applaud. The curtain drew, and the crowd lingered, wondering if there would be an encore. But the crazy Haitian man had gone back to his bus, ready to take his traveling Caribbean party to the next lucky city. -- Bradley Campbell