Zootopia, the live extravaganza thrown each year by New York radio station Z100, never fails to entertain — or to overwhelm. Calling it a concert almost feels like an understatement; with an endless cavalcade of Top 40 artists playing one extremely short set after another, it feels more like an entire day-long festival crammed into a few brief hours for the ADD generation. This format can lead to some unintentionally hilarious juxtapositions — where else would you find screamo rage cases the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus introducing R&B romeo Omarion? And yet the tween-heavy crowd which filled Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum on Friday night squealed enthusiastically all night long, no matter who was onstage. It was enough to make even the most dedicated pop pessimist smile: Conventional wisdom may hold that American music has irretrievably shattered into a thousand non-overlapping niches, but someone must have forgotten to CC these kids on that memo.
Gym Class Heroes got things started with a solid runthrough of their endearing emo-hop love song “Cupid’s Chokehold” and one other song. Next up were Hinder with “Better Than Me” and “Lips of an Angel,” whose greasy, misogynist ‘tude seemed particularly ill-suited to the young audience. But Zootopia’s first third was all about Omarion. After a few nimble urban-ballet routines — choreographed to match his own hits (“Ice Box,” “Entourage”) as well as others’ (T-Pain’s “Buy U A Drank,” Timbaland’s “Bounce,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”) — Omarion brought the venue to its feet by bringing out his good friend Bow Wow as a surprise guest. Sadly, the pair didn’t play any songs from the upcoming joint album that they recently announced, but they did do a quick cover of Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s “The Best of Both Worlds” before a spirited take on their 2004 single “Let Me Hold You.” If their album has half as much chemistry as that performance, it’ll be the best full-length rapper-singer collab since, well, Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s The Best of Both Worlds.
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Things went by in a pleasant blur once that early high point was past.Rihanna proved the night’s most impressive diva, belting rocked-outtakes on “Umbrella” and “Shut Up and Drive” amid furious pyrotechnicdisplays; Fergie and Hilary Duff turned in their own energetic setslater on. Holding up the male contingent, Robin Thicke turned up tosing a single tune, “Lost Without U,” which was worth it for hisflawless falsetto. Thicke’s voice was by far the evening’s strongest —though Adam Levine of Maroon 5 (pictured) gave him a run for his moneyduring the Maroon boys’ slick five-song set.
Somehow all these disparate artists seemed like a cohesive team, unitedby their shared mission of making fun (if disposable) music. In theend, the only genre which disappointed on that front was rock.Dashboard Confessional’s mopey set was something of a buzzkill betweenthe ecstatic highs provided by Rihanna and Hilary Duff — but worst ofall was closing act Daughtry, who ended Zootopia on anuncharacteristically angsty note. When the chrome-domed ex-Idolbellowed out “It’s Not Over,” we wished it was; by the time he startedsinging “Home”‘s chorus of “I’m going home,” well, we did.