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UPC treats students to a “Ludacris” show

Minds, eardrums and asses were blown at the Mullins Center last night – the University of Massachusetts’ University Programming Council hosted 2010’s spring concert. A few songs into the brief but explosive set of opener and UMass student C-Banga, the suave young gentleman turned and said “ayo Bang Boys, get sexy on me,” and his band obliged. It remained sexy all evening – with the possible exception of New Found Glory, because who has ever described pop-punk as “sexy?”

After C-Banga and the Bang Boys wrapped up their last song, the lights came on and Jason Levasseur took the stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar, introducing himself as a last-minute lineup addition: “my name is Set Change.” This approximately encapsulates his performance – self-deprecating and unappreciated. After a few originals, he apparently decided to appeal directly to the crowd by switching to instantly recognizable covers, from “With a Little Help from My Friends” to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”

Next up were the Electrolightz, whose overall aesthetic could be shorthanded as “glow stick.” Their stage set-up involved an array of phosphorescent beach balls. The set opened with an exhilarating kaleidoscopic synth breakdown, which quickly morphed into a pulsing club beat.

Repeatedly throughout this opening song, the two vocalists shouted “UMass, make some motherf****** noise,” which would have been a tall order – their overwhelming bass slammed and ricocheted against every wall in the stadium such that all else was inaudible. Actually, much of singer Rami Dearest’s vocals were inaudible; it seemed as though the sound mix was customized to Ludacris and LMFAO, because they turned out to be the only reasonably balanced performances, sound-wise.

Their songs did employ some unbelievably catchy synth hooks, but they were never audible for long enough to grasp. The uncompromising rhythm swallowed up melodies like some kind of bass whale. Still, Electrolightz did what they were hired to do and moved the crowd, and an unconventional shuffle-time jam (“Merriweather Post Pavilion”) mixed things up enough for the set to stay interesting.

Up next, pop-punk idols New Found Glory broke into their set with “All Downhill From Here” – which indeed it was, as the tempo seemed to pick up gradually from song to song. The on-stage energy was high, as evidenced by the fact that there was almost always at least one band member bunny-hopping around like those pop-punk guys are prone to doing.

Despite missing guitarist/songwriter Chad Gilbert due to surgery, New Found Glory performed admirably; Chad’s replacement, Anthony Raneri, didn’t miss a beat. Neither did the crowd, thanks to that dance club sound-mixing. Every bass drum hit reverberated and overshadowed the other instruments, even the vocals. The formula worked though, and the crowd warmed up steadily throughout their set, which finished with “My Friends Over You.”

With the audience primed, LMFAO were poised to tear the stadium up. Spotlights on, and band-mates Sky Blu and Redfoo began to dance to a manipulated sample of “Eye of the Tiger.” This was a good introduction to their set, much of which consisted of ‘80s-inspired dance beats re-appropriated for irony and ecstasy.

Twisting geometric shapes and colored spotlights danced around the arena as LMFAO shelled out one goofy party anthem after another – like “I’m in Miami, Bitch” (for which they substituted the chorus with “I’m in UMass, Bitch”) and “Shots.” The dual MCs may not have displayed a particularly high degree of lyrical chops, but they sure did give a dynamic performance.

At moments throughout the set, they would coordinate dances that were at once spectacular and idiotic. Much like the choice to bring out a keytar for one song, or having the backup dancers dressed as Lego bricks. Though not the most impressive MCs, Sky Blu and Redfoo are two of the best hype men you could ask for. Suffice it to say, the crowd was entirely “crunk” by the time Ludacris finally took the stage.

But before he was ready to do that, he started up a “Luda” chant from the shadows; when the noise was finally right, he appeared on stage in white-rimmed shades and broke straight into “Stand Up,” getting the first of several call-and-responses going with the chorus: “When I move, you move – just like that.”

He proceeded to play just about every recognizable single he’s released in his 10-year career, from his very first – “What’s Your Fantasy” to “How Low” and “My Chick Bad” off his newest album, “Battle of the Sexes.” At one point near the end of his set, he asked the crowd if they were tired yet, after hearing “too many hit songs.” Needless to say, nobody was too tired of hearing “Ludacris” music; either the smoke machines were working full tilt for his set, or UMass really loves their Luda.

Or, as he put it, before breaking into “Area Codes” – “Guess what I got in the 413?”

Ludacris’ trademark syncopated rapping style was as insane as usual last night, breaking out of the rhythm in unexpected ways at the most climactic of moments. His DJ was also on point, cutting fast and tight on all the hits, as well as taking the spotlight for an impressive solo.

He had the audience in the palm of his hand all night, alternately getting them to clap, wave, light up or shout, all at the drop of a beat. Thankfully, he took the opportunity to inform the students of the dangers of alcoholism, driving and pot-smoking and sex addiction: “This has been a Ludacris public service announcement.”

The tongue-in-cheek attitude went well with LMFAO’s shenanigans, but the veteran MC hit a lot harder. He closed with a couple of his more aggressive singles, “Move Bitch” and “Get Back.” But the crowd felt the love nonetheless.

Garth Brody can be reached at gbrody@student.umass.edu

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