Dave Chappelle makes attendees of his shows put their phones in a pouch before the curtains come up, and on Thursday night, he praised the audience for complying. The practice helps performers feel more comfortable taking risks on stage - and with a star-studded show with surprise appearances by Usher, T.I. and Doug E. Fresh, attendees' loyalty paid off. "If you paid for a ticket tonight, you did the right thing," Chappelle said. "I've got the Rolodex to make things happen."
After opening performances by two comedians, one of them being Chappelle's Show mainstay Donnell Rawlings, Chappelle himself strolled on stage. Continuing a theme from his Netflix special, Chappelle shared several jokes about transsexual people - along with his inner conflict after receiving a letter from a trans fan who was devastated by such jokes. He also said that while he respected the struggles that trans people dealt with, he questioned whether the empathy toward them would be the same if it were only black and brown people who were trans. "The only reason we're talking about (transsexuality) is because white men want to do it," he said. "...Since when has America given a fuck about how anyone feels inside?" He also joked about the costliness of New York City, Amish people's refusal to use technology, and called Donald Trump a "bad DJ at a good party."
After Chappelle's performance, arguably the real show began: the music. After an energetic start by The Roots, Chappelle introduced Usher, who strutted on stage while wearing an openly unbuttoned orange and yellow shirt. The R&B legend has had negative headlines in recent weeks after allegations of giving herpes to his ex-wife, but he looked without a worry when under the bright lights. He had previously performed with Questlove and company at The Roots Picnic in 2016, so the band already had developed chemistry with him; Usher danced around the stage, performing hits like "U Don't Have To Call" and "Caught Up" while backed by fresh, lush arrangements by The Roots. Big Boi gave an electrifying performance himself, taking the stage with Sleepy Brown to rock "Shutterbug," "Way You Move" and "Kryptonite," along with new Boomiverse cuts like "Kill Jill" and "Mic Jack."
Electronic musician Jeremy Ellis gave an energetic performance on the MPC as a sort of intermission, and the Atlanta theme came full circle with another surprise cameo by T.I., who performed cuts like "Bring Em Out" and "What You Know." Black Thought then displayed his breathless, otherworldly mic skills toward the conclusion of the set, and Usher shut down the stage with a performance of "Love In This Club." After Usher concluded his set, there was one more surprise: Doug E. Fresh was in the audience, so Chappelle had the legend come on stage to beatbox for the crowd. After going solo, Doug E. Fresh was joined by Black Thought and T.I., who rapped "La Di Da Di" as Doug provided the legendary backdrop.
Locked up cell phones means that you won't find video footage of the show online, but there are still 13 more shows in Chappelle's residency at Radio City Music Hall. Other slated guests include Chris Rock, Erykah Badu, Childish Gambino, and many others. Visit ChappelleRadioCity.com for the full line-up, and to get tickets.