The-Dream: Two Strange, Thrilling Nights in NYC
In a live display of the struggle between his normal, impossibly irresistible persona and his heartbroken alter ego Terius Nash, The-Dream headed to New York to showcase the two wildly different halves of his persona during back-to-back shows of his Kill The Lights tour at S.O.B.'s on Sunday and Monday (Mar. 11-12). In between the conceptual concerts -- Sunday night the singer was billed as The-Dream, and on Monday as Terius Nash -- the 34-year-old R&B maestro hosted a private listening of his latest full-length opus, "Love IV MMXXII," at Germano Studios in Manhattan.
Sunday's show, which focused solely on the singer's oeuvre as The-Dream, captured the lightness and grace of his "Love" album trilogy through on-point instrumentation and an engaging but focused performance from Mr. Nash. Everything worked for The-Dream on Sunday night, from the melting synthesizers that brought "Love Hate" highlight "Fast Car" into the choking percussion of "Nikki," to the live unveiling of slow burner "Fancy," to his hilariously stinted onstage seduction of two women (one was less eager for his slobbering and caressing than expected, and was promptly shooed offstage and later chastised for acting like she was "too good"), to the presence of Jay-Z and Beyonce in the building, with most audience members craning their necks to the VIP section to catch a glimpse of the proud parents. By the set-closing one-two punch of new single "Roc" and his best song to date, "Rockin That Shit," the audience was putty in The-Dream's hands, lost in the neon lights that streamed across the singer's body and through the audience every few seconds.
The following night, which was the "Terius Nash" showcase that was set to highlight his "1977" Internet album released under the singer's real name, was more of a mixed bag. As expected, Nash strolled onstage to "1977" opener "Wake Me When It's Over" -- but was curiously lip-synching through the first half of the track. Sneering through the material of the free full-length, Nash had rid himself of the charm he was oozing the previous night; this may have been the effect of performing tortured, intensely personal music, but the singer's dismissive attitude ("Ain't nobody wanna hear me talk, so play that shit," he commanded the band after cutting a diatribe short), the out-of-sync band and head-scratching shots at his contemporary R&B stars (more on that later) left the S.O.B.'s audience cold.
After five songs, Nash, clad in a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey, left the stage -- his latest signee, Casha, was given space to perform her track "Silly" -- and returned, now in a Patrick Ewing Knicks jersey, to effectively put an end to the "Terius Nash" portion of the show. He started running through his "The-Dream" setlist, nearly identical to the one he delivered on Sunday night, and while the audience perked up, the dramatic shift in style was difficult to adjust to. "Fuck that other n---a," The-Dream told the crowd, meaning Terius Nash. The-Dream "won" on Monday night, but it was difficult to stomach seeing Terius Nash losing so soundly; "1977" is, after all, a fascinating album, and could have been presented more cohesively.
Nash was wearing the same Jordan jersey at Germano Studios on Monday afternoon, when he and Def Jam invited a group of writers to preview his forthcoming album. Last month, the singer told Billboard that "Love IV" marries his split personas, and listening to a dozen songs from the album confirmed his promise. Sipping on a can of Mountain Dew, Nash sat on a control panel in the studio and mimicked the various instruments on each song, while amplifiers rattled -- and almost fell off the dashboard of the panel -- behind him. "I played the ones I knew was gonna be on there for sure," he told his captive audience, noting that he probably had over 40 other songs that might make the final cut.
Here is a breakdown of a few standouts on "Love IV MMXXII," as previewed by The-Dream:
"Foreplay": Another thumping sex jam from a man who's fashioned his career around them, but the vibe here is more immediate and epic, as The-Dream seethes, "I could give a fuck about the foreplay." The track recalls R. Kelly's "12 Play" more effectively than, well, "Kelly's 12 Play," a song off The-Dream's "Love vs. Money."
"Lovin You/Crazy": Like "Love Vs. Money" Parts 1 and 2, this robotic stomp splits its message into two intoxicating parts. Pissed off and desperate, The-Dream sings, "I'm willing to lose everything for her," as drums explode behind his vocals. "I can't take all the credit for that [song]. The cocaine had a lot to do with it," The-Dream deadpanned after the song ended, possibly joking and possibly very serious.
"Paid" featuring Gucci Mane: A banger and obvious single choice, this team-up between two Atlanta all-stars features an inviting bed of synthesizers and an unavoidable hook. A revitalized Gucci Mane thankfully holds up his end of the bargain on one of the only collaborations previewed.
"Y'All": An introspective track that shrouds The-Dream's syrupy vocals in a thick coat of Auto-Tune. Religious imagery abounds, references to the singer's mother and father are striking, and the line "Somedays I'm Superman, but sometimes my cape needs dry cleaning every once in a while" somehow works.
"Talk That Shit": On this new cut -- like at the S.O.B.'s shows, and on Twitter -- The-Dream clarifies that he is indeed angry about the attention being given to rising male R&B stars like The Weeknd, and that these characters still can't touch him. The music here is delicious, but superfluous. "Talk That Shit" is The-Dream lashing out at his competition, dropping lines like, "It ain't nothing new when you're remixing my old shit," and "Didn't I turn you rappers into singers? Didn't I make you famous?" It's a formidable, highly entertaining track, and defines The-Dream's mindset as he gears up for his next album, which does not yet have a release date.