1Xtra's inaugural urban music event blings with a middleweight line-up of R&B and hip-hop stars, but it seems to be missing something. Perhaps it's the emptiness of a venue in the frosty Midlands at merely 10 per cent of its 40,000 capacity (perhaps thanks to a dodgy train service over Easter). Or the technical hitches that taint most of the performances. Or even the absence of underground names such as the grime youngster Chipmunk, who is steadily capturing fans without the dull sheen of commercial success.
That aside, Taio Cruz opens the show with great energy. His Top 5 hit "Come On Girl" keeps the female contingent shaking their hips to the beat. It's those same girls who greet Estelle with screams, while the men seem mainly to be taken by her strapless denim ensemble. "Just a Touch" is served delightfully, but the MC relies too much on her demureness to really keep the audience going. It's not until Kano runs on to the stage for a surprise cameo during Estelle's "American Boy" that the atmosphere turns electric.
Unfortunately, Craig David's mojo appears to be in first gear. The crowd are hardly responsive to the songs from his latest LP, especially the tiresome "Officially Yours". A sudden burst of MCing evokes cheers, but it's too little too late for the generic display – which does follow-up Wiley favours by setting the crowd up for something a little more stimulating. Along with fellow grime MC Skepta, Wiley's gruff rhyme-play, combined with the "Rolex Sweep" – the most ridiculous choreography since the Macarena – gets more roars than Lupe Fiasco's playful rendition of "Kick Push", a guest appearance from rapper Sway, or even singer Jay Sean's entertaining set with the former So Solid producer JD.
Ex-Destiny's Child Kelly Rowland could even have trumped the East Londoner with her charming sass – but the soundman might have had a grudge, as he couldn't get it right throughout her 20-minute set.
Chris Brown, the all-dancing, all-singing teen idol, is impressive, if slightly detached. But it's Akon, who has managed to emerge unscathed from alleged incidents of misbehaviour with fans at two of his concerts last year, who wraps up the event superbly. With the help of a bouncy hypeman and of newbie Tami Chynn, his sweaty tracks and crowd-surfing antics are by far the most appreciated of the night. It's moments like these that signal 1Xtra Live's potential – providing they can actually fill up an arena.