Review: Chris Brown puts his talents, faults on display at Amalie Arena in Tampa
(UPDATE: In news that should surprise nobody, Chris Brown punched a photographer in the face while in the DJ booth at Aja Channelside in Tampa early Monday after his concert, the photographer told Tampa police.)
Chris Brown didn't die Sunday in Tampa.
He wasn't arrested, didn't melt down, didn't fight fans, didn't sprout horns and a pointed tail, wasn't spontaneously sucked into hell by a pack of cackling demons.
None of those things happened Easter Sunday -- and for the perpetually embattled R&B singer, that has to count as a win.
"I'm having fun as hell up here," Brown told the crowd early on.
And it's obvious why. Concerts like his "Party Tour" stop at Amalie Arena might be the last places on Earth where Brown, arguably the most disliked pop star in America, gets a pass on his endless resume of awful, violent and self-defeating behavior. Here, 8,000 fans who don't dislike him, who actually adore and revere him -- and there are way more than you think, including so, so many women -- are all he sees from the stage. In this bubble, you don't need to squint to see the star Breezy could have been. He's already there.
But even in the bubble, you notice some things.
On the Party Tour, Brown’s clubby song-and-dance routine is on display in 360 degrees from a squarish LED-bottomed pedestal in the center of the arena. Every fan gets a good view (at Amalie, it helped that the upper deck was completely empty and curtained off), but any sense of intimacy is a bit of an illusion. Brown could get closer to fans by walking out onto a catwalk, but when he stayed near the center, as he did for much of the show, he was actually farther from the audience than other performers with an end stage.
Moreover, while he worked through some 25 songs, he did so at a mighty efficient clip -- during his 70-minute set, Brown was only on stage for about 60. There is no doubt he worked up a sweat in that hour, but there were also songs where he didn’t dance as much, and others, like Time For Love, where he happily ceded his mic to a backing track.
On the list of Chris Brown’s sins, such shortcuts of showmanship probably don’t make the top 10. But if you wish to separate the artist’s troubles from his art, as Team Breezy does, they must be admissible as faults. Brown’s been through some stuff, but he’s 27, younger than Pitbull or Drake, the same age as Jason Derulo. Each of them would’ve given more.
And still – still! – you can see why fans want to believe in Brown. His choreography is no longer jaw-dropping (although entering via guywires dangling from the rafters was a nice addition), but on songs like Poppin’ and Deuces, his feet flickered under his body like flames. Even at the set’s very end, he was dancing up a frenzy and even did a standing flip on closer Party, punching and thrusting as explosions of sparks fired overhead.
Like many pop stars, when Brown danced, he pulled back on his singing, and vice versa. No song really gave him a pure vocal showcase (Privacy came closest, as did a suite of slow jams including Grass is Greener, Make Love and Back to Sleep), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a singer, what Brown does as well as anyone else is sing club tracks, songs that are made for getting tipsy and turnt after midnight on a Saturday. He’s got a million of ‘em, and that’s where the show found its legs. A series of flashy hits that closed the show – Ayo, Loyal, Play No Games, Show Me, Post to Be, Kriss Kross and Party – was as good as the concert got.
Breezy's opening roster was all rap, starting with early-2000s holdover Fabolous, who cut his smoother jams (Doin' It Well, Into You, Can't Let You Go) with thornier verses from Bobby Shmurda's Hot N---- and Meek Mill's All the Way Up remix, as well as his own throbbing singles Make Me Better and Breathe.
Long Beach, Calif. trap star O.T. Genasis got the crowd on its feet early, opening with his monster hit CoCo and juking and flailing with limber-limbed eagerness. Both he and Fab outshone Kap G, who wandered and mumbled his lines with far less savior faire. Kap's big closer was making Tampa fans scream for his Snapchat, so, y'know, he had that going for him.
There was one unannounced guest on Sunday – during a break in Brown’s set, Fabolous brought out Yo Gotti to perform his hits F-U and Down in the DM. It was a pleasant jolt of surprise during what otherwise felt like a by-the-numbers night.
But for Brown, a few more by-the-numbers nights might be just what the doctor ordered. If it keeps him alive, out of trouble and away from trigger situations, we’d all call that a win, too.
-- Jay Cridlin