LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Where to begin? The Old Hollywood vibe outside the renovated Palladium, with the spotlights, red carpet and swarms of celeb-gawkers and people-watchers? The long-neglected venue's new sparkle and revelatory sound? DJ AM's aw-shucks return to performing?
No. This special night, on which a landmark Tinseltown concert hall was rechristened after a multimillion-dollar renovation, belonged to the headliner.
The large band kicked in, and rap's biggest act sauntered onstage. "Y'all wanna go all the way tonight," Jay-Z surmised about the crowd after his opening number. They did, and he obliged.
They were dancing early and often -- on the packed floor, in the VIP balcony, even in the VVIP balcony -- with folks throwing their hands in the air like they really do care. And there was plenty to care about as Jay-Z mined his catalog that includes 10 No. 1 albums and smash singles for 95 sweaty minutes.
Acknowledging the Palladium's storied history early on, Jay-Z name-checked Frank Sinatra, the then-rising singer for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, which christened the place in 1940. "I consider myself Ol' Brown Eyes," he said with a grin.
His raps were alternately speedy and slow, political and boastful, accusatory and celebratory. It was funky, poppy, a little old school, new school and middle school. And the well-behaved crowd simply lapped it up.
Songs bled into one another, with few extended breaks between. One of several high points was the perpetual crescendo of "Show Me What You Got," with the three-piece horn section and one of the two drummers working harder than they did all night.
After an affecting a cappella take on the Katrina requiem "Minority Report," which made heart-wrenching use of the Palladium's new giant HD screens, Jay-Z asked almost rhetorically, "How many people here votin' for Obama?" The pro-Obama theme was revisited several times.
But lest the excited crowd feel preached to, the rapper quickly said, "Let's change it up." "Public Service Announcement" fed into the current "Swagga Like Us," during which the star of the show said, "L.A. -- I brought someone with me tonight." Out moseyed the ubiquitous T.I., holder of the country's No. 1 album, to rap his and Lil Wayne's parts of Jay-Z's latest hit and deliver a sampling of his own songs.
The players slowed it up for the money-changes-everything lament of "Song Cry." But the letup didn't last long as the obese bass of "99 Problems" kicked matters right back up, complete with some midsong "Back in Black."
In his first stage appearance since last month's deadly plane crash, DJ AM humbly worked the decks for the full set, likely satisfied to be ceding the spotlight. Jay-Z acknowledged him halfway through, adding: "A quick shout-out to Travis Barker. We gonna party hard for them tonight." AM was visibly scarred but visibly happy to be back at work.
For the encore, Jay-Z commandeered the DJ's laptop, teasing with opening snippets of songs that riled up the crowd, then dropped them cold. He finally settled on "Big Pimpin'," then wrapped the smash "Hard Knock Life."
"This was a historic night for me," Jay-Z said as the band brought it to an end. "I hope it was a historic night for y'all."
And as the next chapter of the Palladium's history begins, local concertgoers will be thrilled to know that it's no longer the creaky old hall of the recent past. But because it got a restoration rather than a soul-stripping makeover, some might not immediately recognize where the money was spent.
Simply put, the dank is gone. The dance hall-turned-TV studio-turned-maximum-security concert space has tasteful splashes of color and more amenities. Best of all, the sound was fantastic; bass boomed, vocals crackled and nuance held.
The Palladium's hard-knock life is only a memory now.