All My Friends Are Onstage: Lil Uzi Vert's hip-hop hit parade brings Pharrell, Nicki Minaj and more to the Liacouras Center - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Let’s not sell Lil Uzi Vert short. The Grammy-nominated Philadelphia rapper is a commanding, dynamic performer with incredible charisma, athletic stamina and a daredevil’s drive to completely obliterate the boundary between artist and audience. It was what grabbed us here at The Key when we first encountered him, jumping offstage and climbing on top of food vending trucks at the Roots Picnic, finishing his set perched on high, dancing for an energized audience below.

This was the Lil Uzi that took the stage last night to a sold-out crowd at Temple’s Liacouras Center for his year-end throwdown, A Very Uzi Christmas. The basketball arena was decked out in tune with the rapper’s goth-inspired aesthetic — open caskets on either side of the stage pumping pulsing light and dry ice outward, two LED boards in the shape of inverted crosses — and as Uzi leapt from the upper deck to the front row to the bumping bass of “444+222” from this year’s Luv Is Rage 2, sashaying between pyrotechnic plumes, it was pretty clear: this show could have been Uzi and Uzi alone, and it would have been an incredible night.

But that’s not how it went down. As DJ PForReal reminded the crowd at every turn during the warmup, “this is a homecoming show,” with promises of things grandiose and special. After about fifteen minutes of strutting his stuff solo, Uzi echoes those sentiments, commenting “I put on for my city” — and he was not fooling around.

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

It started out low-key enough — Ontario rapper Nav came out to a modest but warm reception and joined Uzi on their collaborative single “Wanted You.” Next up, A$AP Ferg was in the wings and rushed the stage to even louder cheers as the two MCs traded their verses on Carnage’s “WDYW” (the song that Uzi climbed the food truck to at Roots Picnic). The jets of flame lit up again for the massive banger “Of Course We Ghetto Flowers” from Uzi’s The Perfect Luv Tape as Playboi Carti strutted to the barricade and worked the fans camped out in the front row while rapping his contribution to the song.

The audience was well-amped at this point, but it was nothing compared to the energy that descended on the room when Uzi launched into a new version of Luv Is Rage 2‘s “The Way Life Is,” and who should step to the stage but rap royalty Nicki Minaj, who features on the remix. She makes an entrance like few other I’ve seen — cool, collected, but ready to throw the F down. Screams filled the air, cell phone lights filled the room; people were losing their dang minds, and as evident from the smile beaming from Minaj’s face during downtime between verses, she was as thrilled by the reception as the crowd was by her presence.

As if the show was in danger of becoming somehow less ridiculous, as soon as Minaj exited after spitting her verse on Yo Gotti’s “Rake It Up,” Pharrell Williams was next in the spotlight, grooving and jamming to “Neon Guts,” the Luv Is Rage 2 track that he contributed a verse to. Pharrell’s demeanor is not directly similar to Minaj’s, but it’s of the same spirit. He’s not trying to be the wildest guy up there — is kind of mellow actually, in some ways coming across like a nerdy guy (pun somewhat intended) who’s amped about performing and about life — but his confidence is unwavering, and he doesn’t miss a step, a beat, a whatever.

During all of this, Lil Uzi stood to the side, chiming in on his wireless mic, an excited and unashamed fan of his peers and heroes and stoked about getting to work with them on such a big scale. This is something that provides an interesting contrast to the dark and macabre stylization of the show — Uzi’s enthusiasm is pure, contagious joy. And the next part of the gig belonged to him.

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

He leapt off stage right, flanked by security detail, who followed him as he scaled the collapsed bleachers along the arena’s south wall. Upon reaching the mezzanine level, Uzi balanced perilously on the railing and hyped up the crowd at his feet (which those security persons nearby, holding his ankles and making sure he didn’t slip). After a couple minutes, he slowly removed his gold chains, and handed them one by one to the bodyguards, along with his wired in ear monitor, and gestured to the crowd to circle up. And he jumped.

Amid all the pushing and pulling, it was difficult to see where or how he landed, but it wasn’t too long before the crowd managed to lift Uzi aloft, and he surfed there for the duration of whatever cut DJ PForReal had in the PA — the place was in such a frenzy I didn’t catch what it was — and then made his way back to the stage.

Was the gig over yet? Not quite. How the heck was he going to top that? In a move that was understated, yet powerful, he brought out a child named Papi to the stage, telling the crowd that the boy’s father is the incarcerated Meek Mill. Fans rocking “Free Meek” tees lit up and Papi was handed a microphone as his dad’s iconic “Dreams & Nightmares” blared through the PA. He delivered a few of the song’s rhymes to the crowd’s delight, but was clearly nervous, trying to hand the mic back to Uzi midway through the first verse. The two went into a huddle, exchanged a few words, and shared a sweet embrace as Papi exited, stage left, and the night wound down.

As the infectious rhythm of “XO Tour LIif3” filled the arena, the song’s second appearance during the concert, Uzi unclasped one of his gold chains over the edge of the barrier, throwing it to the elated fans on the general admission floor — one final gift to his hometown fans packing this Christmas show.

If you’re a subscriber to Tidal, the entire concert is streaming — you can get a taste of it here, and check out a gallery of photos below.

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Nicki Minaj and Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Pharrell and Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

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