Ashanti @ O2 Academy, Glasgow, 8 Feb
This could have been a nostalgia-filled night celebrating one of millennial R'n'B's most scintillating stars. It's just a shame that chaos ensued...
As we arrive at Glasgow’s O2 Academy, it seems a plausible possibility that the pavement leading up to the city’s venue is the centrepoint of Storm Ciara, which is currently smacking the country. Regardless, once inside, the predominantly female-millennial crowd descend on the floor whilst vintage R'n'B classics blare out of a sound system that's certainly generous with its bass. As our sodden clothes unfurl, tonight's support act, Glasgow’s-own Kiara Marzella, is effortlessly engaging, telling of the “dream” moment she got the call asking her to support the superstar.
By 10pm, after a hype-man has asked “Who’s excited for Ashanti?” at least 20 times, we're at the point of pleading for her arrival. Yes, we are excited for Ashanti. A stirring montage, outlining her most glittering achievements plays, before the woman herself arrives. Alongside two backing dancers and a DJ, she opens with Happy, the first of many Ja Rule collaborations. The screen behind her is now showing the track's music video, which periodically transforms into a mere picture slideshow. Complemented by equally elementary lighting, the stage is set, albeit for a high school show.
Ashanti’s satin, quintessential contemporary R'n'B voice should now be her saving grace, but it only emerges clearly by third song, Into You. She can still vault up and down from the top notes in the chorus, she sporadically selects the lines she’ll actually go for. Later in the show, she stops to offer her gratitude to the crowd, as she says: “It’s you that made all this happen.” But, as she continues to lend fans the mic on Always On Time, you wonder, is she expecting us to sing half of tonight’s material for her as well?
Leaning on clichés like “All my ladies now,” or “Glasgow, how you feeling?”, the audience interaction on Ashanti’s part is strikingly hollow. A refrain perhaps, as she announces: “Now for the sexy part of the show.” She pulls three audience members up to receive a lap dance from her and her two dancers. At best this could be a fun detour, albeit somewhat irrelevant and dated. But, as the participants clamber on the stage, a cluttering of her entourage also appears. The rest of the audience is forgotten, and the moment becomes as clunky and half-hearted as we’ve now come to expect. Mid-lap dance, one of the chairs crashes back onto the floor with the audience participant blindfolded and still attached.
The most fitting emblem of tonight’s chaos, however, is Ashanti’s encounter with O2 Academy regulations. Looking across the stage she shouts “Here, some guy’s saying that there’s a curfew?... I flew a long way to get out here… Oh my god, he’s tripping!” Just as the crowd become audibly dissatisfied, we're now abruptly into the night's final song, Foolish. Confetti and fire cannons eventually cough up the products of the limited stage budget, and in one last collaboration with the audience, we hear elements resembling the original track, almost as if it were coming from a speaker that’s low on battery.
At worst, Ashanti in her 50-minute set is bumptiously complacent. Her most dedicated devotees may claim her chutzpah is mistranslated. But tonight's £30 ticket price is nevertheless worthwhile only for them. For the rest, her biggest hits, the Fat Joe and Ja Rule collaborations, keep her afloat. Fresh from flexing his events management skills at 2018's Fyre Festival, we can't help but wonder if Ja Rule had a hand in organising tonight as well?