M.C. Hammer's detractors have plenty to go on: His rapping is agreeably harsh but unremarkable; his lyrics are rarely imaginative; and his material, like much hip-hop, tends to grow redundant. But there's no faulting Hammer's hyperkinetic dancing, and it's his unique, inventive choreography that propels his videos and makes his live shows nothing short of spectacular.
Sunday night at Capital Centre, Hammer once again lived up to his rep as a fantastic showman -- his hour-plus set was marked by one crescendo after another, flashy choreography and a refreshing approach to hip-hop free of misogyny and stupid expletives.
Entrance No. 1: a tiny burst of fireworks, and a fusillade of 30-some wriggling, stomping, elastic dancers dressed in sparkling green spandex and lame'. Posed like a victorious Mike Tyson, Hammer appeared, arms raised, at the top of the stage, then burst into a dynamic "Here Comes the Hammer." Smooth.
Entrance No. 2: intimidating thunderbolts, lightning and a costume change. Hammer came out in his trademark black balloon pants and a matching jacket, then charged through an animated "Dancin' Machine." Rough.
Entrance No. 3 (or Into the Sea): Hammer was carried on some poor soul's shoulders through the audience while rapping "Ring 'Em." His army of dancers remained onstage, but all eyes were on the Hammer, which suggests that his magnetism was more than 30 stomping, jumping, thrusting dancers could muster.
Entrance No. 4: Hammer's triumphant return to the stage, where three huge light-bearing hammers were suspended from the skies. They bobbed gently as he detonated "U Can't Touch This."
All the zeniths and effects were spectacular, and only a nitpicker would bother noting that Hammer's style was a bit more inventive -- and had a little more humor -- back in his pre-headlining days. But what was crystal clear was that those who dismiss Hammer as a lite-weight just aren't listening hard enough. Hammer stood up for freedom of expression with comments supporting the 2 Live Crew, sent a distinctly anti-drug message in "Help the Children" and celebrated his faith in "Pray," a sort of hip-hop gospel during which his robed dancers resembled an agile gospel choir.
Hammer got it started, put it in the mix, took it deeper and turned the mutha out. His material was usually as good as its source. "Turn This Mutha Out" drew from vintage Parliament and "Dancin' Machine" from the Jackson Five; "Have You Seen Her" was a dreamy remake of the Chi-Lites' dreamy 1971 hit. But the evening's raison d'etre was the dancing, an amalgam of street and step styles that inspired the audience, which consisted of about 10,000 junior Hammers.
Unlike most multi-act shows, the crowd was there just for the headliner. And of the several opening acts, only one really got the crowd roaring with chants that were infectious but not musical: surprise guest and avowed Hammer fan Jesse Jackson, who cut an odd picture next to M.C. Eazy E. Jackson's brief comments were of an anti-drug, anti-apartheid nature, and his chants, aimed at inspiring positive thinking and mutual respect, closed with "come on, Hammer!"
The other openers included After Seven, a slick vocal trio as versed in catchy new-breed R&B ("Can't Stop") as it was in the more traditional ("Ready or Not"). Squeaky talker Michelle burned through the slow ballad "If?" but was most intriguing in upbeat, big-voiced numbers like "Nicety" and her ultra "No More Lies."
Vocal quintet Troop's set was sharper than its show here this spring, surely because this time it was backed by a band rather than by prerecorded music. Its choreographed steps were smart and "Mamacita" was lively, but Troop fared best in "Spread My Wings" fusing satiny harmonies with rap, new jack and go-go beats. Also performing a spirited set of Hammer-inspired raps and moves was his former backup group, Oaktown's 3.5.7.