Radio City Music Hall
Wednesday, September 29
Drake isn’t the best at arena-swallowing mega-hop, as evidenced by a guest appearance from Jay-Z, who casually uncorked Radio City with his verses from advice rap touchstone “Light Up” and “On to the Next One.” He’s not the best at leather-jacketed r&b either, as evidenced by a guest appearance from Trey Songz, who casually melted Radio City with “Can’t Be Friends.” He’s not quite a champ at word-scrambles–see special guest Fabolous. And the star attraction didn’t even incite the night’s best rap-along; that distinction goes to an in absentia Lil Wayne and his “I’m Goin’ In” verse. Plus, Drake’s “Money to Blow” co-star Birdman took top honors when it came to cornea-smashing jewelry and head-covering star tattoos. Drake isn’t the best at anything, really. But he is very good at pretty much everything.
This utility-man ubiquity allows him to perform for an hour and forty-five minutes with few lulls mere months after the release of his debut album. But the live show also stretched his contradictions enough to draw out some seams. For instance, while Drake’s most natural mode–and the tone of the lion’s share of his solo material–is somber introspection, he’s also a sucker for the kind of gaudy spectacle found in many of his collaborative tracks and his idols’ live sets. So while the guilt-ridden lament “The Resistance” might play well in headphones or at Joe’s Pub, it suffered amidst the night’s various backstage interlopers, smash time hooks (“Say Something,” “Every Girl,” “Money to Blow”), and Drake’s antsy desire to be Jay’s stadium heir apparent.
And antsy means antsy. His non-mic hand was forever in motion: tapping his temple, wagging his finger, saying “stop,” saying “come here,” slicing diagonally across his body like a professional wrestler. Though often noted for his smoothness, Drake’s onstage demeanor is actually defined by a jumpy intensity–oftentimes it looked like the one-time child actor was trying out for a production a couple avenues west of Radio City. Sure, he did the pick-a-girl-from-the-crowd-and-dance-with-her thing. But even that wasn’t so sexy. The two slow danced like they were at junior prom. Then the girl’s coat got caught on her elbows when Drake tried to peel it off. Then he ended the pseudo-sultry charade with some hilariously shameless product placement: “You know I rep for Blackberry and AT&T,” he told the girl, who now looked slightly confused. “So here’s my first gift to
you — a Blackberry Torch.” And then he gave her a black box, presumably with a Blackberry Torch inside of it.
Of course, this was done with a knowing, post-sell-out wink. He “avoided the coke game and went with Sprite instead,” after all. And Drake’s (relative) ineptitude with the ladies does give a little hope to guys in the audience without Trey Songz’s abs and voice and jeans and sunglasses. (Actually, compared to most of his guests, Drake looked kinda bummy in a big black t-shirt and loose camo pants.) His humor and sometimes-startling emotional nakedness helps, too. Both are in his songs, but they also made their way into the I-see-you crowd interaction portion of the evening. To someone holding a sign that read “FUCK ME” with a phone number under it: “That’s pretty straightforward. I hope that’s a girl holding that sign. I dunno — they already tried to sue me for some shit I didn’t fuckin’ do.” To a woman in a sequined dress: “My dad use to have sequined drapes like that. He was crazy. Still is. He drinks whiskey.” Drake lifted the I-see-you game from Jay-Z’s live set, though it seems safe to say Jay’s version is less likely to make any dad/drapes/crazy/whiskey connections.
Thanks to his open-hearted and open-skulled approach, it feels like you can almost tell what Drake is thinking even when he’s not talking, rapping, or singing. Like when he dramatically went to his knees at the end of the show, after sparks fell all over “Over.” He closed his eyes, his face big and sweaty and relieved on the screen to the left of the stage. Right then, a Drake line popped into at least one head: “I’m looking forward to the memories of right now.”
Critical Bias: Once called Thank Me Later‘s “Karaoke” the best Phil Collins song of the last 20 years.
Overheard: “I heard Prince might come out.”
Random Notebook Dump: I wonder what Drake thinks about Rihanna’s latest hair style …