Birmingham NEC's obvious corny stuff, glib and commercial, a bit boring in parts, tame, family rap...

A black backdrop hangs at the back of the stage, carrying the ‘Sean John’ logo – Puff‘s designer clothes label. All goes dark, onstage the huge video monitor barfs out clips’n’blips of Puff‘s works, speakers blare out [I]The Omen[/I] theme, and from the pits of hell an air-suckingly cyborg voice intones, “I’m ready Charlie.”

Then HE appears, up on a hydraulic half-stage, aloft in the heavens – dressed in white, flyer than a very fly thing. On come the gorgeously sexy dancing girls. Bang!, segue into ‘Theme From Shaft’; naturally ‘Shaft’ has been replaced by ‘Puff’. Then, bang! bang!, the Puffster sets off deafening thunderclaps and fireballs with a flick of the hand. The crowd go ape-shit crazy.

It’s a well-honed spectacle veering between faux hardcore rap (Puff is joined by old-time collaborator Mario Skeeter Winans, Little Ceasar and Junior MAFIA on his ‘heavier’ numbers) and schmaltzy schmooze-alongs (joined by black ‘boy’ band 112, and protigi Carl Thomas). He gives out long-stemmed roses to the laydeez and says shit like, “Girl, when I come home late from work I’ll cook YOU dinner.” (Cue girly screaming.) His bevy of voluptuous dance maidens bond the whole thing together with a glittering array of costumes and punaany shaking. At one point he simulates ‘humping’ one of them, causing girlfriend Jennifer Lopez standing in the photographers’ pit to smile wryly.

The show’s full of cheap tricks. Puff continually bigs up Birm-mingh-HAM, always said like it’s in Alabama, rather than the tatty Midlands. He also rather grandly announces, “Rules for a Bad Boy show: 1) No playa hitting around; 2) Sing along; 3) It must be clear when we leave Birm-mingh-HAM, Engerland, it must be the loudest hip-hop city in Engerland!” But his cheek gets the crowd screaming, barking, “yo!”ing and laughing knowingly at their own behaviour.

‘PE 2000’ and ‘Come With Me’ are exquisite examples of the master’s craft(iness). For the former, he stands proudly beneath a video of an American newsreel showing his lawyer declaring his innocence of the recent charges against him, before he bams into the law-baiting “public enemy number one” chorus. For the latter, he stands above an air vent ‘puffing’ up his white silk shirt as dry ice zooms skywards and he exuberantly waves a huge Union Jack around. It all goes a bit God-bothering at the end with the dripsome ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ dedicated to God, “anyone you’ve ever lost”, Notorious BIG, Tupac Shakur and Eazy-E, and Puff encouraging lighters to be held aloft.

Sure, it’s obvious corny stuff, glib and commercial, a bit boring in parts, tame, family rap… The Puff Daddy story is nothing more or less than a Stephen King potboiler. Sometimes the sexy dancers dress in white (good) sometimes black (evil). Sometimes he does rap (naughty), sometimes ballads (make a mother proud). He’s God and the Devil. Ah, but he sells it well.