Halloween came early to the TD Banknorth Garden Sunday night, in the form of JAMN 94.5's annual Monster Jam.
Unfortunately, the tricks outnumbered the treats by a wide margin at the epic, multi-act show. Unable to snag a true marquee performer with a current release, such as Diddy or Ludacris, the hip-hop and soul station instead put together a roster of 10 artists whose gifts range from modest to minute.
Accordingly, the sold-out crowd -- fans ranging from prepubescent suburbanites and their miserable parents to members of the Celtics and at least one famous Red Sox slugger -- oscillated between listless and manic.
One minute they were halfheartedly cheering the cut-rate Destiny's Child moves of family quartet Cherish, the next they were hopping and hooting along to burly Miami hustler Rick Ross, the latest purveyor of urban tales of cocaine supply and demand.
Even for the contest winners seated on the stage, the level of enthusiasm often depended on whether they were appearing on one of the video screens. Although it must be said that David Ortiz, in the onstage bleachers for much of the night, looked to be enjoying himself.
Most disappointing was crunk princess Ciara. The Janet-come-lately and her octet of dance-floor acrobats moved with ferocious elegance to tracks like "Goodies," but the singer had glaring microphone problems when she spoke -- tediously, about the "importance" of her upcoming sophomore album. Mysteriously, those problems disappeared when she sang. It made the suspension of disbelief in her perfect pitch impossible. If we're all going to take part in the "live" charade, Ciara's soundman needs to play along.
Connecticut native and Diddy discovery Cassie did a miniature version of Ciara's pout, prance, and pantomime act, and even the likable veteran E-40 relied on tracks to bolster his frothy dance-floor rhymes.
Cheerful St. Louis rapper Chingy kept it live but overdid the odes to divine derrieres; his sing-song flow was smooth, however, and the crowd happily crowed along to "Right Thurr" and "Holidae In." Houston's Chamillionaire was impressive, mainly because he managed to command the stage alone, spitting out his rhymes with the fast-talking charisma of a born hustler.
Which was in direct contrast to the underwhelming Lloyd Banks, who barely distinguished himself from his needlessly large 12-man crew until he doffed his shirt. The 50 Cent protégé trafficked in the most boring of hip-hop clichés -- gunshot samples as song cappers, pitting one side of the arena against the other -- while belting out crowd pleasers "Warrior" and "I'm So Fly" and dissing former G-Unit crewmember the Game.
Closer T.I. proved that menace and manpower were not necessities as he threw his slight frame solo into the night's most nimble set, reminding the audience -- as did Chamillionaire -- that one MC with a few fresh couplets can be more entertaining than an entire evening's worth of recycled ideas.