In the first two weeks of its new season, Saturday Night Live has given us a pair of polar opposites for musical guests: The Lumineers and Kendrick Lamar. The dichotomy goes beyond differences in genre and has more to do with the fact that one band showed up to work on a Saturday night and one didn’t, as far as taste and talent are concerned. Instead of being all “HEY GUYS LET ME SHOW YOU HOW I FEEL THROUGH MY EYEBROWS” and stomping around emphatically over a few basic chord progressions as the Lumineers did last week, Lamar hit the SNL stage with a full band and eased into a set that flipped from cool and calculated to sultry and smooth in the matter of a downbeat.
Hot off a cameo in the Lonely Island’s video for “YOLO” (in which we get a great shot of what he’ll look like as an old dude) that debuted just minutes prior, Lamar and the TDE Crew launched into “Swimming Pools” awash in blue with little more than a beat and the metallic spark of a cymbal behind them. Swaying through it while dropping a “Drink” here and there, the lead single off good kid, m.A.A.d city was a fitting choice for SNL Song #1 in that it provided Lamar the opportunity to warm up himself and the room in equal measure. Metronome-like precision is one of the reasons why the guy is so damn likeable, and Lamar didn’t disappoint as the verses gradually stacked up before effortlessly bursting into a volley of rhymes you couldn’t help but dance on your couch to a little bit.
He tweeted this like five minutes after coming offstage from “Swimming Pools.” I secretly hope he made friends with Kenan and Andy Samberg or that he gave Adam Levine a wedgie, because that guy is almost as terrible as his prompter-reading skills. (Also, next week’s episode is a re-run, and it’s the one with Jeremy Renner/Maroon 5. I know it’s almost Grammy time, but explain to me how that’s fair, Lorne Michaels.)
With “Poetic Justice,” Lamar dropped the puffy vest and the pretense and he gave us the vocal equivalent of bedroom eyes. The saxophone was a gorgeous addition throughout Lamar’s serenade, and I kind of wish that Terrace Martin got a broader spotlight alongside Lamar. The camera panning out as opposed to zeroing in on Martin in the middle of those satiny rolls is a dead giveaway of a fake-out, and though I’m not entirely sure that’s what was going on here, it would’ve been nice to focus on those scales cascading over the song’s opening measures, too. I’m not expecting every band to rival The Roots when it comes to effortlessly pulling off a live late night TV set, but if you’re gonna bring a saxophone up onstage with you, you should be treating it like the brass beauty it is without demoting it to a prop–especially when it’s being played by a superlative musician like Martin.
(And guys, Kendrick Lamar isn’t Khloe Kardashian’s beloved Lam-Lam. There seemed to be some confusion about this on Twitter last night.)
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