Drake at Target Center, 12/8/13
Photo by Erik Hess
Target Center, Minneapolis
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Remember how Steve Martin used to end his set by telling audiences "I'd like to thank each and every one of you" and then he'd rapidly repeat "thankyouthankyouthankyou" as though he really was thanking each and every one of us? Well, Drake's pretty much gone and made that shtick the centerpiece of his concert, and he's done it in dead earnest.
About an hour into his Sunday night show, the 27-year-old showbiz-brat turned rap-superstar performed "305 to My City," from his latest album, Nothing Was the Same, while strolling along a circular catwalk, suspended above the center of the Target Center floor, illuminated by lasers. In other words, just your everyday big-ticket arena-pop eye-dazzler.
Then, however, Drake began pointing at individual members in the crowd and, for the next fifteen minutes, in a rhythm between that of a freestyler and an auctioneer, he identified dozens of them by their outfits or their actions. "I see you baby girl in the blue top, I see you." "I see you there holding up that jacket in the back." "You right there with the Afro puff I see you right there." Fifteen. Damn. Minutes. As a performance, it was startlingly confident, statically hypnotic, and downright tedious, like Warhol's Empire or a John Bonham drum solo.
Photos by Erik Hess
It was also kind of sweet -- not necessarily the adjective most often used to discuss Drake, whose lyrics often recount the prickly negotiations of immature relationships and, in the grand tradition of Sensitive Pop Males, use emotional honesty as an excuse to be more of a dick than even such tense situations warrant. But this need to reassure fans how unique and special they are was like something out of a teenpop show, though on a ridiculously outsized scale. (Those slackers in One Direction just read a few fan tweets.)
The night's other big moment was just as corny and no less sweet. A fan, who introduced herself as Miranda from Minneapolis, was brought onstage for Drake to serenade and he sang his latest hit, "Hold on We're Going Home," because of course he did, begging to receive her "hot love and emotion/ Endlessly" while gazing into her eyes and holding her hands. He also teased her about her socks and carefully checked her age (22), even though the chaste encounter never went beyond a farewell hug. It was such a winningly heartfelt performance that afterwards Drake felt obliged to wonder about who in the crowd would be "gettin' it in" that night, because, you know, a softie's got to hedge his bets like that.
Photo by Erik Hess
The show's visuals were as spectacular as ticket prices required, but tooled for emotional resonance as well. The set, minimal yet striking, was dominated by two huge rings, one onstage and one above, which changed color to reflect the many moods of Drake. (Judging by the lighting design, he mostly has blue moods and red moods.) The floor of the lower ring was an intricate pattern suggesting ancient runes or a collage of countless QR codes, and the overall vibe was sleek and futuristic. At one point the stage flooded with reddish lights and smoke and I was worried that Darth Vader was about to order Drake frozen in carbonite.
Drake's three-piece backing band was submerged in the center pit of the lower ring, and so the star was usually the only human in sight. Jhené Aiko joined him onstage for a pair of pretty duets; opener Future returned for a rousing shoutalong to "Same Damn Time." But mostly Drake was a sole figure stalking the stage, dwarfed by the larger image of himself on the screen behind him, often floating through abstract cityscapes.
And, of course, there were Drake songs, drawn mostly from the new album, detail-clogged Tumblr posts sung and rapped in a thoughtful if sometimes petulant bray, recounting experiences and imparting self-help lessons: Your old friends are your best friends, success brings disappointments that you have to struggle to overcome, and, yes, "The Motto" itself -- Y.O.L.O. -- which has grown just slightly less annoying now that "twerk" has replaced it as the word you're most likely to justifiably despise middle-aged people for saying.
Photos by Erik Hess
But Drake has rhymed on plenty of other rappers' hits, including some of the most memorable club bangers of the past few years, and he jacked a few of those when it was time to set aside worried contemplation for a get-on-your-feet jolt. It was kind of cheating maybe for Drake to perform his guest verse from Migos' "Versace" or get us to yell the hook to A$AP Rocky's "Fuckin' Problems," but it's not like anyone ever complains when they get a chance to hear those tracks again. Still, his closer, the undeniable "Started from the Bottom," was more than a match for those borrowed tracks, a slamming boast that second-person plural, always a spiritual achievement with this constitutionally self-obsessed guy. And then, as sad piano music played, Drake was gone.
Personal bias: I've often preferred the tracks crafted by Drake's regular producer, Noah "40" Shebib, to the rapper's own sullen careerism and crotchety romantic complaints, about which I've been ambivalent if never dismissive. But live the guy's a charmer, his sincerity justifying his faults in exactly the way he intends them to.
The crowd: There were scattered groups of impossible tight-pantsed ladies out on the town together, but mostly it was date night at the Target Center -- a fact that Drake acknowledged from the stage while touting his performance's aphrodisiac qualities.
Overheard in the crowd: "I feel like I just watched a three-minute Disney movie," my friend Nicole said after Drake and Aiko performed "From Time," and she wasn't making fun either.
Random Notebook Dump: Opener Miguel was responsible for one of the most adventurous R&B albums of 2012, Kaleidoscope Dream, and one of the year's sexiest ballads, "Adorn." Live, he macked the ladies in the audience a little too insistently and overworked his admittedly dynamite stage moves, while his band rocked a little too hard, overwhelming the arrangements. I'd love to see him in a smaller room though, where he could work off the crowd's energy a little more organically
"Tuscan Leather" (First verse)
"Tuscan Leather" (Third verse)
"No New Friends"
"I'm on One"
"Love Me" (with Future)
"Same Damn Time" (with Future)
"Hold On, We're Going Home"
"305 To My City"
"HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)"
"Started from the Bottom"
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.