Live Review: Drake’s audio-visual live show is something to behold, even for the non-fan

In the midst of restarting his current Boy Meets World tour down in Australasia, Drake took to Sydney for his first Australian show of the tour, fitting his exceptionally designed stage show into the Qudos Bank Arena where he will perform a total of three times over the next week.

Foregoing any traditionally big name support act – last time he was out here, 2 Chainz was on support duties – Drake picked Canadian artists Boi 1da and Pierre Bourne (who mostly dabble in production) to warm his audience up, done so through a selection of tried-and-tested, bass-enhanced bangers like “Bad & Boujee” and “Bodak Yellow”. It was sufficient enough, getting the crowd nice and hyped for Drake and his incredible stage design.

Our intro after a smokey stage entrance: the menacing bass-rattle of “Free Smoke” preceded by a sweet (live?) introduction from an off-stage Nai Palm, who sang an extended snippet of her (well Hiatus Kaiyote‘s) “Building a Ladder” – the sample used on the More Life track. Not content on letting the excitement lull even for a second, this quickly segued into the superhero-swag of “Trophies” complete with on-beat pyro before yet another rapid switch, this time into one of Drizzy’s most memorable hits, “Started from the Bottom”.

Three songs in and the 31 year old megastar had already taken us through a large chunk of his evolution over the past few years, proving in quite spectacular fashion that he hasn’t lost the ability to craft commanding anthems. For those still not convinced so early in the show, he pulled out yet another few heavy-hitters with aplomb: “Headlines”, “HYFR” and – best of all – “0 to 100”.

This pre-Views thread was defined by irrepressible energy and celebration, playing off the crowd for one enormous party centred around Drake’s hits, with even the cut-short tracks appearing long enough to get those limbs flailing. This was highlighted in a frantic megamix, stitched together by Drake’s unstoppable show of force as he appeared encased in a matrix of lasers which shot up from the stage in multiple patterns, starting with “Worst Behaviour” and finishing on “Crew Love”, the latter not performed but left to the crowd to sing-a-long to while Drizzy disappeared back under the stage to prepare for the next part of the show (ie, put on a jacket). In between were cuts from various times, including everything from “We Made It” and “All Me” to “I’m On One” and “Over”.

It’s clear Drake has somewhat diluted his own sound in the past few years. There’s no longer just one Drake, the same that ran from Thank Me Later all the way up to Nothing Was the Same. Since IYRTITL – his attempt at borrowing from tough-talking mafioso rap – Drizzy has been split into multiple iterations, furthered by the fact that his most recent project was marketed as a “playlist” rather than a thematically consisted album. Perhaps this is a result of Drake’s enormous success and an attempt to cater to many different tastes all at the same time, which in a way will prevent him from ever making an album as memorable as Take Care, or the aforementioned NWTS.

Evidence of this is the way Drake segmented his set, splitting his almost 40-deep playlist into parts, bringing different sides of the artist for several tracks before switching to the next: first we got the “hit maker” Drake, boasting tracks that fueled his rise to the top of pops; then came the “melodic” Drake, the singer with an uncanny ability at cutting through to hearts the world over with sentimental, nostalgic and often vulnerable songs about love and loss; next up, the “slick talking” Drake with sure-fire party hits like “The Motto” and “For Free”, the latter cleverly working in Too Short‘s “Blow the Whistle” and the former briefly taking on the beat for Nicki Minaj‘s “Truffle Butter”. The Caribbean-influenced “Island” Drake was the next to pop out with all those expected riddim-inflected tracks, including Rihanna‘s “Work” and the woeful “Too Good”, a modern replacement to the vastly superior “Take Care” which was teased briefly.

It all wrapped up with tough-talking “Mafioso” Drake, the brooding rapper ferociously firing shots at disloyalty and fake love, an aesthetic centered around highlights like “Energy” and “Know Yourself”. This is a Drake not only saddled with paranoia and outward-facing contempt but excessive pride and confidence (though who could blame him?), the latter two traits embodied in set-closing “Legend”, a grand statement but one not entirely unearned as far as chart-dominance and record breaking goes.

Though he is a fine performer for the music he makes, Drake’s live show simply wouldn’t be nearly as impressive as it is without a team led by two very creative individuals whom have worked with the artist on several occasions: Guy Pavelo and Steve Kidd of DP-SK Design & Production. They’ve put together an incredibly complex stage show for Drake, which for the Australian & NZ tour was enhanced even further with 1000 kinetic spheres attached to an arena-wide truss, each via a flexible winch which allowed the LED-chipped spheres to collectively morph into different configurations; each and every track wedged into the middle of the set list (“Hotline Bling” to “One Dance”) would see the stage change dramatically.

This atmospheric touch was genuinely awe-inspiring, far beyond anything I’ve seen in concert, with the extra benefit of bringing every single person in the arena (even those in the nose-bleed section) closer to the stage, creating a sense of intimacy that pushed Drake’s performance even higher. This ranged from the purple dotted-disco of “Hotline Bling” – one of the night’s highlights – to an electrifying sea of flashing blue lights sliding across several waves for “The Motto”, and an understated palate of interconnected lasers and lights that looked like an award-winning science show, pulled off for “Passionfruit”.

The symmetry, the lighting, the pyro, and the lasers; all of this was heavily detailed and choreographed to the beats of Drake’s performance, spanning a long, narrow stage that was sub-divided into three circles – one large platform in the middle and two smaller ones on either side, usually occupied by one of two (underutilised) backup dancers. Drake ran across the stage like a star athlete for most of these tracks, mirroring the crowd’s hyperactivity as the mesmerising spheres danced, shook and morphed above him.

Then came the final bit of the show – the “Mafioso” section – where the spheres stopped, instead attention being focused on an enormous illuminated projection globe inflated from center stage and switching between two images – that of a dark, moody moon and a bright, fiery sun. Drake would revolve around the globe as if he was the earth itself, running and jumping in circles as he blasted off his bass-heavy excursions into grime before closing with the three aforementioned IYRTITL tracks.

The projection globe, inspired by a Toronto installation called “Death of the Sun” by Director X – who directed the music videos for “Hotline Bling” and “Started From the Bottom” – was the cap in an epic audio-visual show, one that’s worth witnessing even for those who may be apathetic towards Drake’s music. That’s not something that can be said often for concerts.

It wasn’t flawless though; there were a few hiccups: stripping “Teenage Fever” down to it’s bare bones and mumble-crooning over it between J-Lo’s “If You Had My Love” hook was a poor choice, as was spending twenty-or-so minutes singling out fans and acknowledging them – an audience engagement technique that has been used by JAY-Z for years, though nowhere near as tedious as here. Those were the two weakest parts of an otherwise excellent performance, one which won’t soon be topped thanks to the creative minds behind it.

Set List

“Anthem” Drake
No Long Talk (snippet of the beat; not performed)
Free Smoke
Trophies
Started From the Bottom
Headlines
HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)
0 to 100
Medley (Worst Behaviour/We Made It/Blessings/All Me/Versace/Pop That/Over/I’m On One/Up All Night/Miss Me/Crew Love)

“Melodic” Drake
Hotline Bling
Hold On, We’re Going Home
Passionfruit
Teenage Fever (ballad version mixed with “I See You” segment)

“Slick” Drake
The Motto (with “Truffle Butter” sample)
For Free (with “Blow the Whistle” sample)
My Way
Both
Portland
Jumpman

“Island” Drake
Work
Take Care (snippet)/Too Good
Blem
Controlla
Once Dance

“Mafioso” Drake
KMT (not performed)
Pop Style
Gyalchester
Know Yourself
Energy
Fake Love
Legend

The reviewer attended this show on November 7th.

Image Credit: Mushroom Creative