Almost Famous

The Avenues to Success

Ryan Leslie, S.O.B’s

R. Les, LloydAfter following Ryan Leslie on Twitter for weeks, I finally heard word of an upcoming show at S.O.B’s on Varick and E. Houston Street. With only four tickets left at the S.O.B box office, I purchased two; later discovering not only Thursday’s show was sold-out, but Wednesday’s as well. Ryan Leslie, who binds himself to his fans, after hearing the news of the outstanding ticket sales, pledged to put his entire heart into each show, promising surprise guests and a string quartet. It is not often in the music industry I see an obvious passion for performing and satisfying a reasonable ticket price of $20, so ‘excited’ certainly doesn’t capture my emotions a few days before the show.

I choose to follow Ryan’s day-to-day updates on Twitter and pay extra-attention to his every move because he possesses a passion for music I also share and I feel many artists emerging in the mainstream simply lack. I arrive to the surprisingly short line at S.O.B’s about 7 30, an hour and a half before Ryan is set to perform. S.O.B’s is a dimly lit venue with a fairly small stage and two bars, the main one towards the back and a smaller one off to the side. The dining area is full of linen tablecloths and roped off entries filled with an audience who probably is clueless to what exactly the “Ryan Leslie Experience” could entail. My friend and I make our way amongst the standing-room crowd, swaying to the old school R&B blaring through the speakers behind us. The media is already gathered at the front of the stage, testing their exposures against an empty, dimly-lit stage awaiting Ryan Leslie’s arrival. Much of the crowd is already severally intoxicated, raising their drinks to the sky with their eyes closed singing along and snapping to the DJ’s rhythms.

I remember glancing at my phone several times, watching 8 00 turn into 8 15, and 8 15 turn into 8 30. About 8 30 the opening band sneaks on stage and my friend and I move our way to the front of the intoxicated mess, my camera securely propped against my side. After hearing my friend’s ranting of, “You’re the press, why don’t you have a press pass? I wanna meet Ryan Leslie!, Go get a press pass!,” I grab myself a spot next to an undercover policeman, who was pushing his hammered girlfriend away from him and pawning her off to my friend, who was also intoxicated. “Yeah, I had to drag him here!,” his girlfriend screams at me as I wonder if I really have to put up with this for the entire show. “No, no, no, I like Ryan Leslie,” the policeman reassures me. The opening act was a getting a fairly severe, negative reaction from the crowd. Part of it was probably the anticipation of Ryan’s debut on stage, perhaps they too were stalking the man on Twitter for weeks, digesting unbelievable promises for tonight’s show. The most recent update I received at that point was Usher apparently made an appearance at Wednesday night’s show, so a visit from Kanye or Jay-Z wouldn’t be a shocker.

S.O.B’s began to fill extremely quickly, signifying the show was truly sold-out. An extremely high percentage of the crowd was female, probably in their late teens or early twenties, but I was going to sing with them anyway, all that Twittering better amount to something. I secured my spot pretty well by letting the two extremely drunk girls gravitate around me and scare-off anyone attempting to move closer. As the opening band quietly walked-off stage to the sound of a few faint claps, the highly-anticipated crowd lined-up at their nearest bar to replace their empty drinks. Of course, as the clock hit 9, Ryan Leslie was nowhere to be found; only the latest club bangers filled the air.

Ryan’s band began to file their way on stage about 15 minutes after 9, two saxophones, one trumpet, a drummer, and two guitarists, but I expected this was just the beginning. An electronic keyboard was set-up at the front of the stage, probably reserved for the mad scientist Ryan Leslie to make his YouTube videos come alive. Then, like the calm before the storm, Free, former host of BET’s 106 and Park, appeared on stage hyping the crowd as if Tupac was returning from his grave. The respect Free gave Ryan Leslie was unbelievable, especially considering Ryan’s still limited exposure across New York. It was refreshing to finally hear the mainstream give Ryan the respect he deserves, hopefully signifying a new era of talent. As Free walked off stage, the first few piano strokes to “Gibberish” played, one of the more mellow tracks on Ryan’s new debut album. The crowd erupted and began to snap their fingers, some of them already mouthing the words to the ironically word-less song. Ryan Leslie’s bodyguards cleared a path for him through the crowd and the musical genius himself appeared on stage and the crowd went absolutely wild, immediately recognizing he was in fact going to open with “Gibberish.” “I’d like to welcome you, to the Ryan Leslie experience,” he said, “I wrote this,” referring to “Gibberish,” “because sometimes, you just don’t know what to say.”

Ryan was ecstatic to be on stage in front of his fans, with some of them following him for years. By the end of “Gibberish” Ryan’s face was already beginning to perspire as he grinned upon hundreds of screaming fans. He continued with the energetic “Quicksand,” jumping around stage pointing at different instruments as if he was passing on some of his energy to them. Throughout the entire show Ryan was well-connected to his band and his environment, particularly in awe at the front row of star-struck, energetic females. At one point during his next song, “You’re Fly,” he took a young woman’s hand and proclaimed his catchy-hook, “Baby you’re fly, baby you’re fly, I love the way you walk and the look in your eye…” I found myself, although thrown in a pit of dancing, screaming females, singing along, and needless to say I was never ashamed.

Immediately I noticed Ryan’s versatile between his vocals, rhymes, and instrumentation. By only his third song Ryan had to wipe his face off with a towel because he was perspiring all over the stage and looked to be completely out-of-breath, only quickly to run right into “Diamond Girl,” his arguably biggest hit right now and gets enough radio-play to get most of the crowd putting their hands in the air. As Ryan began to slow down with “Valentine,” the electronic keyboard on-stage reflected the same feeling Ryan tries to emulate in this YouTube videos. Ryan at one point completely stopped singing and most of the front row was able to finish most of the song, probably as a newer and hard-working artist an unforgettable experience. As promised, the string quartet filed in onto the stage and played with Ryan until the end of “Addiction,” where another surprise jumped on stage, Lloyd. Lloyd transitioned into his verse from “Girls Around the World” and after giving Ryan his respects, ventured back into V.I.P along with Fonzworth Bentley and Tyson Beckford. At this point, Ryan looked completely drained from sliding from microphone to keyboard and keyboard to doing 360 degree spins on stage. The energy level on stage completely matched that of the crowds, so much in fact I don’t think they knew what to do with it.

After the lights completely dimmed, Ryan looked up at the ceiling, probably reminiscing on an extremely successful show, and transitioned into his final song, “How it Was Supposed to Be” with electric guitars screaming the introduction while Ryan positioned his arms across the stage. His enthusiasm continued with a passionate keyboard solo and a fist across his chest, just breathing in the last of the crowd’s energy for the night. He exited with every person rushing to the coat check humming “How it was Supposed to Be” and a satisfaction of knowing maybe Ryan just resurrected a passion in music that sometimes needs to reach surface.

Real talk.

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March 19, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,

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