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They were a heaving mass of humanity, 43,000 strong and throbbing beneath a haze of pungent smoke. Or at least, that's what happened until the threat of lightning cut short Cleveland hip-hop artist Kid Cudi's set at Thursday night's Twilight Concert.
The first 45 minutes or so of Cudi's set were fair to middling, if not spectacular. He stepped onto the stage at Pioneer Park shortly before 9 p.m. A relentless bass pounded the intro to "The Resurrection of Scott Mescudi" as rain streamed past the flashing lights. It was a surprisingly epic introduction for one of the biggest Twilight concerts of the year. It was so packed, in fact, that a handful of fans climbed into Pioneer Park's bigger trees to catch a glimpse of the rapper. Have you ever seen a dance party in a tree? I had not.
Despite a strong start, the energy waned as the show went on. Cudi excelled at rapid-fire jams like "Just What I Am," but his vocals were strained and bit harsh on lower key songs like the "acoustic" version of "Up and Away." The take away: Kid Cudi is a capable rapper, but struggled Thursday night when he had to be a singer.
Unsurprisingly, the show also was thick with the smell of pot. Though Cudi occasionally had to berate the audience for pushing or throwing things on stage, his fans nevertheless adored him when he eventually asked "Who smokes weed?"
The answer, apparently, was everybody, at least judging by the shouts of approval and thick ribbons of smoke racing on the breeze. Which raises a curious point: perhaps it was fitting that Cudi, a stoner icon, would play in Pioneer Park, an icon in its own right of local drug culture.
If the show had ended by 9:30 it would have been pleasant but unremarkable. However, at 9:36, Cudi announced that he had a mere 10 minutes left due to a forecast of lightning. The crowd booed loudly, but stopped as he cut straight to what many of them came for: "Pursuit of Happiness" from his debut album "Man on the Moon: The End of Day."
The crowd immediately looked like a galaxy of camera phone-stars in a nebula of smoke. Seconds into the song, tens of thousands of people were jumping in unison. The ground shook like a staccato earthquake. And keep in mind, this wasn't a wooden venue floor; it was the solid dirt ground. The song made for a satisfying, if rain-muddied conclusion that easily eclipsed the rest of a show.
The 43,000-plus audience made the show among the largest ever for a Twilight Concert, and, though organizers won't officially know for several days, may have eclipsed last week's also massive Ludacris show.
Twilight Concert Series
Who • Kid Cudi, King Chip, Godina
Where • Pioneer Park
When • Thursday, Aug. 22