“ARE YOU ready for Akon?” cried a DJ in comedy glasses, a kilt and tartan waistcoat. An hour on, he was still posing the same question.
That Akon finally arrived wearing a watch the size of a side plate should have been infuriating. Instead, the 31-year-old Senegalese-American R&B star, a handsome, muscular master of manipulating emotions, instantly had the crowd in the palm of his hand — almost literally, as he spent the first few minutes high-fiving female fans in the front rows.
Lots of ladies love Akon, but none, surely, as much as Akon loves himself. Initially wearing a black leather trenchcoat — he stripped off layers as the evening progressed — he peppered his set with odes to his bank balance, his success with women and his performance in bed. And that was just the brief, between-tracks brags. The songs themselves touched on Akon’s supposedly murky past, but were mostly love letters to his own ego. The worst offender was ‘I Wanna Love You’, not-so-subtly retitled ‘I Wanna F*** You’, the chorus of which he handed to fans, then stood back, basking in the adoration.
Implausibly, it was hard not to fall for his charms. Splicing together segments of songs from his multi-platinum, three- album back catalogue and string of hit duets with the likes of Eminem, Snoop Dogg and Gwen Stefani, he never let the pace nor pop factor drop. Sometimes too smooth on record, here his mix of slinky R&B, hip-hop and rumbling dub was part Usher, part Sean Paul and clearly in debt to Michael Jackson.
A slick three-piece band was superb, a guest spot by the British rapper Sway gave the new song ‘Silver & Gold’ a welcome dose of urban grit and even the DJ’s daft antics as a sort of Keith Flint character were fun to watch. As Akon threw his umpteenth sweat-soaked towel into the crowd, there was one question burning in the minds of at least half his fans — was he packing padding? The answer almost arrived when, already topless, Akon slowly unbuckled his belt and took down his trousers to reveal tight black pants. If there really was no padding, he gets away with the bragging.
© Lisa Verrico, The Times, 28 January 2009