When Nelly took the stage Friday night at Liberty Bank Amphitheater, his performance served as a reminder that our region produced one of the biggest rap stars in history – and why he’ll continue to be considered as such.
He brought his show just across the Clark Bridge to Alton, IL. The mighty Mississippi river served as the backdrop. But the 19th century architecture landscape that gives downtown Alton its historic charm on the opposite side of the bridge was obscured by the sea of people that came to see the biggest name to grace an Alton stage in recent years.
Nearly 4,000 came to see Nelly that night, a record for ticketed events at the venue. And he gave the large crowd a classic performance that blended his musical styles and reflected the diverse audience.
The evening kicked off with DJ Charlie Chan Soprano, also a St. Louis native, whose skills on the wheels of steel earned him the honor of filling the shoes of the late Jam Master Jay as the official DJ for the legendary rap group RUN DMC. He proved himself worthy of the coveted distinction with a spin session that blended classic hip-hop with current day.
Nelly chose the hype dance track “EI” to kick off a performance that featured his most popular songs from his nearly twenty-year career – and a few well received new tracks.
Accompanied by a live band and St. Lunatics Ali and City Spud, Nelly gave Altonians and those who drove over from the MO side – which is less than a twenty minute ride from North County, a show they wouldn’t soon forget.
If it weren’t for the catalog of hits that most of the audience knew by heart, one of the few on the planet unfamiliar with Nelly would have assumed that he was a young and hungry talent making the most of the moment in the spotlight and not the veteran who has been putting on for St. Louis hip-hop since the turn of the millennium.
“How many day ones do I have out there,” Nelly asked. The crowd went so crazy that it was safe to assume almost everyone fell into that category, even though some of those shouting out weren’t even born when Nelly exploded on the scene and gave hip-hop its first melodic rap heartthrob. But when the beat dropped for “Country Grammar,” they made good on their claim by hopping right in on the hook and rapping along with Nelly word for word.
The rap along continued with City Spud’s verse on “Ride Wit Me.”
He kept it mostly greatest hits, with songs like “Grillz” “Over and Over,” “Hot in Herre” but not completely. Lesser known tracks “Sexual Healing,” “100K” and “Move That Body” were sprinkled into the 90-minute set.
Nelly also paid homage to other St. Louis acts that put on for St. Louis rap on a national scale – including Chingy, Huey, Jibbs and others. He gave St. Louis rapper J’Kwon the stage for a brief performance that included his massive hit “Tipsy.” The St. Louis feature segment concluded with St. Lunatic Ali’s performance of his solo hit “Breathe In, Breathe Out.”
After paying tribute to St. Louis hip-hop, Nelly took a moment to debut some new tracks. “All Work No Play” and “Rubber Band” caught on quickly with the crowd.
Dilemma, the song featuring Kelly Rowland that brought him his first of three Grammy Awards, and “Just A Dream” closed out the performance.