November 10, 2006

K-Fed can't even fail well in pissed-off performance

Kevin Federline owes me $27.50.

Growing up, I always thought Shaquille O’Neill had set an untouchable standard for hip-hop futility. In his 1994 classic, Shaq Fu, he rhymed about such salient issues as Mr. Miyagi, Ivan Drago, and cream cheese on bagels while setting an unofficial record for the least original beats on a studio album. Wednesday night’s featured artist at House of Blues changed everything.

Performing in front of a surprisingly packed house, Federline managed to pull off the remarkable: He disappointed a crowd that had come for no other reason than to watch him implode. For a man whose woeful musical efforts almost single-handedly helped turn YouTube from a fledgling website into a $1.65-billion product, a woefully entertaining live show would seem like a sure thing. What makes him so enjoyable in small online morsels though—his total ignorance of his public perception—proved to be his downfall in person.

Some artists thrive to a certain extent off of a built-in animosity toward the world. It turns on a switch inside of them and allows them to produce something greater than what they are otherwise capable of creating Kevin Federline just gets consumed by it. By going to great lengths to describe how “haters” only further his artistic drive, it makes it all the more evident that his artistic drive is limited to talking about “haters.”

At one point, Federline appeared to walk off the stage in mock protest of the audience. He proceeded to sit down at a table next to the speakers and drink from a conveniently placed bottle of Jack Daniels before breaking into song moments later. By that point, the show had become so surreal that it was unclear whether it was an all act or if he really was just losing control.

In keeping with his contempt for those who shelled out nearly $30 for a show that lasted just over half an hour, Federline refrained from performing arguably his most popular song and the one that has come to define his career: “Popozao.” Referring to the now infamous debut single multiple times in his otherwise incoherent rhymes, K-Fed appeared ashamed of his Brazilian booty-shaker and disgusted with anyone who had the gall to laugh at it.

Current events, too, seemed to have some bearing on Federline’s stage show. In his first concert since wife Britney Spears mercifully filed for divorce, K-Fed embraced the opportunity to spin the loss of his economic livelihood as a good thing.

“You know I’m about to be a free man,” he told the crowd, breaking from his usual routine of grunting and yelling “Chicago!” in between songs. “Who wants to dance with a pimp?”

Federline always looks like he’s working just a little bit too hard onstage. When he comes to the end of a particularly long verse, his facial expression changes from his default, painted-on grimace to a wry hand-in-the-cookie-jar grin, as if even he is kind of surprised that he didn’t screw up. He’s a former backup dancer, and his frequent hand motions—an attempt to express the emotions that his beats and delivery fail to convey—came off as rigid and repetitive.

The structure of his songs puts the memorization to a minimum. Several of his ballads consist of a solitary rambling verse, sandwiched between continuous exhortations to the crowd. During “Playing with Fire,” Federline and his sidekick repeated the words over and over until the song, like his marriage, crashed and burned into nothingness.

If there was one bright spot to the show, one moment that came close to vindicating the hype, it came at the end. After exiting the stage prematurely to puzzled cheering from the crowd, K-Fed waited off-stage pensively until the crowd began chanting his name. At that point, “Lose Control” blared from the speakers, and Federline hopped back into the spotlight, giving a loud, if not particularly stirring, rendition of the album’s marquee track. For that moment at least, it seemed that all was right at the House of Blues. Unfortunately for the audience, it was a rare flicker of life in a night (hopefully) to forget.