Hip hop shows are a funny thing when the artist transcends in popularity. It’s an issue I have with many of these big name arena gigs, but it’s also an issue I’m well aware of not changing any time soon. In place of deep, great, cuts of music, comes an emphasis on ensuring the ‘turn up’ is real – experimentation with a set list is a no go because when you’ve got a well-oiled and tightly run production, there can be no room for error.
It’s the type of approach to these huge international shows that make bank for artists like Drake, Kanye West and even Beyoncé and really, I can’t blame them. As a punter, we get a slick and excellently executed show of the hits and the songs that have made them within a certain demographic; but if you’re Day One fan, chances are that when your favourite skyrockets in profile, you’re not going to get that intimate show experience you’ve perhaps wanted from the beginning.
But, I digress.
We’re talking about the Boy Meets World Tour Drake has been taking around Australia and New Zealand over the last three weeks. His third sold out show in Melbourne on Monday night also marked the end point for the Canadian R&B/hip hop superstar and considering it has been two years and two records (three, if you count the Future collab album What a Time To Be Alive) in between drinks with his Australian fans, Drizzy had a lot of ground to cover.
Popping up in the middle of Rod Laver Arena and dressed in a track suit that he must have been sweating bullets in, Drake launched into his well-trodden set that began with “Free Smoke” and would end with “Fake Love” and “Legend”.
First thing’s first, there’s a lot of running. Back and forth, side to side, Drake made sure that all sides of Rod Laver Arena were included – as much as possible – the furious ball of energy he was creating with each performance. His now infamous interlude of shout outs was as extensive as previous accounts claimed (though, if you saw him on the 2015 Future Music Festival tour, this won’t have come as a surprise) but still, I enjoyed Drake encouraging the crowd to congratulate a couple he’d spotted for being at the show on their fifth anniversary, than enduring Kanye West telling the crowd of his brief past as a telemarketer so he could afford his first pair of Gucci loafers. “I can’t even keep a girl for five minutes,” Drake jokes.
Playing directly into the crowd in the General Admission area on the floor beneath him, Drake kept the vibe high, mashing together a medley early on (omitting his “Fuckin’ Problems” verse, which sucked), featuring cuts from “Worst Behavior”, “All Me”, “Versace” and “We Made It”. While the response never dipped below a loud cheer and holler, my interest did begin to wane slightly as we approached the midway point, only because it was becoming clear that this was an Arena Show By Numbers. Sure, Drake nailed each aspect and if this was my first time seeing him, I’m sure my reaction would have been much more gobsmacked. Unfortunately though, we teetered on same-y at more than a few points, which was a shame.
Still, the show wasn’t a bust when you take in the production scale Drake has employed on this tour. The floating halogen lights, pyro and smoke that took over Rod Laver Arena was one thing, but the erection of the massive sun to take out the show, was epic. The way the sun ‘died’, changing from the traditional silvers and greys, to a burning red, was a great bit of theatre, not to mention a great use of space.
Also, the Rihanna portion of the night proved to be one of the best, possibly solidifying how great the couple are in a musical partnership, even if they didn’t work out off-stage. “Work” and “Too Good” bookended the still-untouchable “Take Care”, before the set dipped back into “Controlla”-era Drake, as the reggae/dancehall beats bounced seamlessly, as did Drake’s two dancers, Aaliyah and Toya. Covering Fetty Wap‘s “My Way”, Gucci Mane‘s “Both” and doling out “The Motto” and “For Free” in quick succession were great additions to the set.
As I remembered from his festival gig back in 2015, Drake is polite but definitely knows how to work his crowd. He incites a crowd sing-off with ease, before uniting us all; calls up to crowd members in seats he could see were on crutches, offering his appreciation, while opening “Energy” with a mini-dedication to all those who are stopping you from being happy and successful. We’re Drake’s extended family tonight, and if people don’t fuck with us, then Drake doesn’t fuck with them.
A nice sentiment, but one I did find amusing considering how many of those people potentially are also buying tickets to Drake’s shows.
There was no encore to this show, a great move I thought, on Drake’s part. There was so much in this show already, it was safe to say the 6 God well and truly did his job. Before descending beneath the stage in a cloud of smoke, he tells us that his manager asked him what he wanted to do, now the tour was over. Did he want to go on vacation? No, of course not. We’re left with a promise of Drake returning to LA to make his best album yet, naturally.
Going off the amount of Drake music being bumped in cars and loudly on phones by fans as I left the venue, there’s still a lot of ground for Aubrey Graham to cover and no doubt, there’s always going to be an audience for it.
The reviewer attended this show on November 20th.
Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder.