Big names unite for scintillating start of iHeartRadio fest

There were lofty aspirations, voiced by a sweat-slicked R&B futurist whose movements were so smooth, it was as if he had ball bearings for joints.

"This night is about bringing cultures together," Usher Raymond panted into the mic with a preacher’s conviction.

And then there were more modest aims, like copping an anesthetizing buzz after a long work week.

"I’ll find peace in the bottom of a cold drink," proclaimed self-anointed Redneck Romeo Jason Aldean, singing to many an audience member doing just that.

Occupying the yawning expanse between those two stated goals was the first night of the two-day iHeartRadio Music Festival, which kicked off at the MGM Grand Garden on Friday with an assortment of incongruous guest appearances (Britney Spears, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, South Korean YouTube sensation Psy), lots of pyro and pupil-contracting visuals and some disgruntled, instrument-savaging punks.

The show was many things: a pan-genre survey of some of mainstream music’s prime movers; a reminder of Clear Channel Media and Entertainment’s radio hegemony; an illustration of how social media can affect the concert experience, with a live Twitter feed scrolled across the bottom of two large screens that bookended the stage; a boozy union of far-flung demographics; a catalyst for some musical cross-pollination.

The latter took place early, during No Doubt’s show-opening set, when pop changeling Pink joined the band to sing a verse on "Just a Girl," after bowing down to singer Gwen Stefani, kissing her cheek and busting out a couple of push ups for good measure.

"Seeing Pink and Gwen Stefani on stage made me proud to be a woman," country sparkplug Miranda Lambert gushed afterward while introducing her revenge fantasy hit "Kerosene." "This one’s for the girls."

After that, Lambert was joined on stage by the members of her throwback femme country trio Pistol Annies, who sang songs of strong women with mouths as unfiltered as their cigarettes.

Perhaps the night’s most propulsive collaboration, though, came when electronic dance music threesome Swedish House Mafia bridged the end of their set and the beginning of Usher’s with "Euphoria," which they produced on Usher’s latest disc, "Looking 4 Myself."

Usher’s performance pulsed with electronic dance music flourishes such as outsize synth lines and beats as insistent as a jackhammer.

This blurring of tidy genre designations may have been the theme of the evening and continued with the aforementioned Jason Aldean, whose band packed the loudest, most forceful guitar crunch of the evening.

When Aldean announced that "We’re about to crank it up just a little" midway through "My Kinda Party," it didn’t seem possible.

In the end, Aldean and Co. came off as a top-notch arena rock outfit with a singer in a cowboy hat.

Speaking of arena rock, Bon Jovi, who performed before Aldean, seemed almost tame by comparison, racing through a litany of hits in perfunctory, been-there, done-that fashion.

Far more incendiary was a short, acerbic set from Green Day.

After pinning ears back with a snarling, politically charged "American Idiot" and "Holiday," the group played a couple of new songs, one with a title we can’t print and "Oh Love," a Replacements-worthy, meat-and-potatoes rocker.

Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong radiated impudence, urging the crowd to storm the aisles, jumping down into the audience to sing "Longview" swarmed by fans, pulling his pants down precariously low in front of one of the cameras filming the show.

After performing for only about 20 minutes or so, Armstrong railed against iHeart’s time constraints, abruptly ending the band’s last song, "Holiday," midway through.

"You’re going to give me one minute?" he fumed at the clock ticking down the band’s allotted set time. "Let me tell you something, I’ve been around since 1988. … I’m not Justin Bieber."

And with that, he proceeded to smash his guitar onstage as bassist Mike Dirnt followed suit, caving in one of his amps.

Similarly emboldened was rapper Lil Wayne, an electric presence who entered the arena like lightning striking a body of water.

"Excuse all the cuss words," he said at the beginning of his set, before coming with plenty more of them.

He practically convulsed on the mic as he barreled through "John" and "6’7," as if he had to jar his words loose, his voice as animated as a cartoon character.

"So misunderstood, but what’s the world without enigma?" he asked at one point, leaving the mystery deliberately unsolved.

Far less invigorated was Rihanna’s headlining performance.

Ambling across a stage with an ancient Egyptian set design, complete with massive gold Sphinx, she was coolly detached, never breaking a sweat.

Her demeanor mirrors much of her repertoire: she seldom extends herself vocally, generally favoring a sultry, mid-register purr.

In her songs, she strikes a commanding pose, forever a woman in control.

"Lick my persuasion / Eat my poison / And swallow your pride down, down," she ordered during the slinky R&B slither of "Cockiness."

And so really, there’s never a need for her to overexert herself.

That’s what you’re there for.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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