Drake – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Wednesday April 25
(originally published in the Nottingham Post)
It was the last night of Drake’s European tour, so the Canadian hip-hop superstar was in the mood for celebrating. This was his best night of the tour, we were told – and despite certain lingering suspicions, it would have been mean-spirited to disbelieve him.
Functionally attired in a plain black shirt, that was discarded mid-set to reveal an equally plain black singlet (and a finely sculpted pair of shoulders), Drake has made his mark by setting himself apart from his blingier musical cousins. Although his tracks are stuffed full of the usual bad-boy bragging – he’s a magnet for the ladies, he’s dripping with cash, he’s basically God’s gift to mankind – the boasts are subverted by uncertainties, doubts and vulnerabilities.
It doesn’t always quite add up, though. On Marvin’s Room, one of the key tracks on his monumentally successful Take Care album, our hero seems to be trying to have it both ways. “I’ve had sex four times this week, I’ll explain, having a hard time adjusting to fame”, he sings, in a less than convincing bid for our sympathy. As for the album’s mega-selling title track, an affecting duet with Rihanna that casts the pair as estranged lovers, driven apart by forces beyond their control, the emotional impact was rather diluted when Drake chose to express his anguish by hoicking up his top and flashing his abs.
Then again, a Drake show is more about showmanship than soulfulness, and showmanship is a quality which he has in abundance. A natural arena performer, he worked the crowd to fever pitch, without needing to fall back on fancy dance routines or elaborate props. An unobtrusive six-piece band were kept to the sidelines, and the clever video graphics never intruded too much on the strong connection between the star and his adoring fans.
“I can tell it’s real women that listen to my music”, he purred, keen to distinguish them from the “bitches” that constantly pepper his lyrics. As for that troublesome (and equally overused) n-word, we were given a special dispensation – valid for one night only – to apply it to ourselves, regardless of ethnicity. (“I don’t recommend this strategy outside the building”, he cautioned.)
Eager to get to know us all on a one-to-one basis, Drake devoted nearly fifteen minutes of his ninety minute set to an extended “I see you” routine, in which he picked out individual members of the crowd, describing their clothes, their hair, or their physique. (“You’ve got a lot of things going on with your body that I love!” he exclaimed, pointing at an ecstatic fan in the front row.) It’s not an original trick – Beyoncé did much the same thing in the same venue, a few years back – but it made dozens of people feel special, even including your reviewer. (“I see you in the polo!”)
The night climaxed with a storming version of The Motto – a straight-up party banger with a bowel- quaking sub-bass – swiftly followed by a dazzling Headlines, whose lyrics flashed across the stage in perfect synch. The road crew danced on stage, invited up to mark the last night, while each and every one of the capacity crowd gave it maximum welly. No encore was offered, but none was needed; Drizzy had delivered, and the Arena had shown him all their love.