Saturday night, USF’s annual Fall Fest concert was filled with stretches of lethargy punctuated by fleeting bursts of transcendence. Out of the roughly 800 in attendance, only a minority seemed genuinely pleased with this year’s performances, featuring the hip-hop group Cali Swag, hip-hop and R&B singer Iyaz, and the Billboard Top 100 staple Mike Posner. The event was hosted by the Campus Activities Board.
After a short DJ set, Cali Swag was the first to take the stage at the War Memorial Gym. The trio, comprised of rappers, Chante “Yung” Glee, Cahron “JayAre” Childs and rapper-DJ, Corey “C-Smoove” Fowler (no relation to the JB-Smoove of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), are perhaps best known for their debut single, “Teach Me How to Dougie”—in many ways the best moment of the night.
Possessed by an inhuman energy from the moment they bounded onstage, Cali Swag endeared the crowd with a seemingly endless reserve of bursting enthusiasm, a feat neither of the following acts successfully managed to replicate.
The group seemed to feed off of each other, weaving around to the delight of onlookers and myself. Their beats’ penetrating base seemed to writhe through the crowd, making for some of the night’s more effervescent moments.
In one of their set’s rare missteps, Cali Swag played a newer track, “Me & U”, during which some female audience members got on stage and, to their general embarrassment, were treated to an awkward pairings in which group members took turns singing verses to visible uncomfortable women, too self-conscious to even dance, sway, or even bob to the beat.
Unsurprisingly, the set was topped off with the group’s debut, “Teach Me How to Dougie,” a track that exhorts listeners to teach a dance, appropriately, that no one really knew how to do. Regardless of the confusion, “Dougie” easily salvaged the uncomfortable pall cast during “Me & U”.
After a thirty minute break, Iyaz, the Virgin Islands native, strutted onstage with palpable confidence, backed by a single DJ. The singer seemed to have adopted a high school persona, sporting a letterman’s jacket and an unusual (for hip hop) interest in rounding up male support, breaking precedent by dedicating his first song to the guys.
That was unexpected. As a man these kinds of shows, you come to expect being ignored, especially when the act is love-obsessed crooner, albeit one largely overpowered by uncomfortable loud background beats. Throughout his performance, Iyaz seemed small for the stage, never quite settling into the performance.
The show’s one predictable bright spot was when Iyaz launched into “Replay”, by far his most mainstream success. After an a cappella rendition of the song’s familiar refrain—“Shorty’s like a memory in my head/that I cant keep off/got me singin’ like…”— the beat dropped, sending a jolt of excitement pulsing through the crowd.
During the intermission following Iyaz’s set, a few audience members expressed their frustration at the drawn out breaks between performances, while another emphatic student labeled it “the worst concert ever.” Her friend, slightly more diplomatically said she appreciated “any reason to dance.”
So it was into this den of despondence that Mike Posner arrived, bent on to wiping away the glum with an eager sincerity. His show, by far the most theatrical of the night, was a study in contradictions—it was once breath of fresh air and a garish cavalcade of smoke and mirrors.
And there was a lot of smoke. Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, the quintessential pop star reveled in panoply of frantically whirling lights and fog, backed up by two electro-men known as the “Brain Trust,” each surrounded by computers, samplers and synthesizers supplying Mr. Posner with much of the lusciously pulsating beats his act relied on.
Front and center, though, was a Justin Timberlake-pilfered falsetto, accented by the artists’ remarkable similarity to the singer-turned-actor, both in terms of style and substance. Mr. Posner, like Mr. Timberlake, was convinced of his own boyish appeal, wearing a wide grin from the moment he emerged onstage.
Mr. Posner, while performing one of best-known hits, “Bow Chicka Wow Wow”, echoed Cali Swag’s performance in bringing a female fan onstage for a personal performance; he wore a boxer’s robe and brought a giant teddy bear that he gave to her during the song. Like the women before her, her face betrayed a mixture of surprise, confusion and, most of all, embarrassment.
Over all, the show, buttressed by heavy star wattage and a generous serving of spectacle, was, for me, somewhat of a disappointment. For a venue that large, the crowd seemed modest and mostly underwhelmed, waving their hands in the air out of sheer politeness. The average attendee seemed understandably less interested in the bloodless acts and more interested in meeting up with friends which, for the Campus Activities Board, may constitute a success in its own right.