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Jay-Z, Alicia Keys a highlight of I Heart Radio fest, night one

September 24, 2011 | 11:48 am

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform "Empire State of Mind" in Vegas

On Friday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Ryan Seacrest made a bold announcement, the same one that peppers many of the ads for the first annual I Heart Radio music festival. "This is the biggest live music event in radio history," he declared at one point during the four-and-a-half hour extravaganza that brought the Black Eyed Peas, Carrie Underwood, Bruno Mars, Kelly Clarkson, Coldplay, Jane's Addiction, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z onto the stage for the first of the two-night festival. 

Seacrest, best known for his work on "American Idol," as host of the long-running American Top 40 radio program and, for Angelenos, the morning drive-time DJ for KIIS-FM (102.7), is nothing if not a hypeman, so he can be forgiven for his oversell. For the record, though, history was not made on Friday night -- but some memorable moments did occur. 

It's Saturday morning in Las Vegas, though, so we're going to hold off on big-picture stuff until I Heart Radio concludes on Saturday night (see Monday's Times for a Critic's Notebook on the event). For now, a few quickie observations and highlights from section 113 of the Grand Garden Arena, capacity 17,000.

Not only do these fans heart radio but, it turns out, they heart alcohol too. The crowd at the Grand was perhaps the drunkest I've ever seen at a big concert. This is Vegas, of course, but the number of fans gripping Hurricanes in those long barbell glasses, the volume of staggering, barely upright people screaming along to Mars' "Just the Way You Are," the train-wrecks on the way out relying on strangers' shoulders to make it through the cattle-like exit while slurring the words to Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You" (OK, just one, but she was amazingly sloshed), made it apparent that Las Vegas had put its spell on the crowd. 

The number of massive hits performed on Friday was impressive, and ranged from the Black Eyed Peas starting the event off with, alas, "Boom Boom Pow" -- which doesn't bode well for any festival -- to Jane's Addiction doing "Jane Says" to Mars covering Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse's "Valerie" to Coldplay performing "Clocks" (singer Chris Martin also covered a snippet of Winehouse's "Rehab") which made the crowd go nuts. Keys debuted a pretty new piano ballad called "A Place of My Own," and teased us with her astounding hook from Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind."

And then, after Keys departed, Jay-Z stepped onstage and owned it with a hit-filled 40-minute set that illustrated why he's the most adept rapper in history. He tore through "99 Problems," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "Big Pimpin'," "Run This Town," and, yes, of course, "Empire State of Mind." He flowed through so many intricately crafted rhymes and words that a few of the drunker witnesses probably got motion sickness.

With the first sound of the first "Empire" beat, we knew what had better happen next: a Keys cameo. Which it did, and those among us who can still remember it through the fog of drunk will be able to say that we saw a classic song performed as it should be, as a duet between two masters.

But that wasn't the coolest part. In the crowd a section over from me stood producer/Aftermath label head/rapper/West Coast don Dr. Dre, along with Interscope Records kingpin Jimmy Iovine. As Jay-Z rolled out, red-carpet-like, his classic lines, Dre, towering over a baseball-cap donning Iovine, bounced his head along in a psychically memorable East-meets-West moment. 

OK, Seacrest, we'll give you that one. A landmark moment, for sure.

On deck for Saturday night: Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Sublime with Rome, Rascal Flatts, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, David Guetta, Usher, Sting and Jeff Beck.

Unfortunately, they're not all going to be onstage together. That'd be historic (and horrifying). 


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-- Randall Roberts

Top photo: Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform at the I Heart Radio music fest at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday in Las Vegas. Credit: Christopher Polk / Getty Images.

Bottom photo: Musicians Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion and Guy Berryman of Coldplay perform onstage at the iHeartRadio Music Festival.  Credit: Christopher Polk / Getty Images.