Drake And Future At Madison Square Garden, Friday, August 5th, 2016, Reviewed
The thing about seeing the same artist over and over again, year after year, is you get so used to their spiel (a term the half Jewish Drake would grasp), because although the sets may change, the personality remains constant. And so when Drake claimed we might be the best audience so far, maybe, last night at the second of a four night run at Madison Square Garden “Summer Sixteen” stop, I, for one, appreciated the old lather. “Listen, I’m gonna let you know”, Drake said right after the third song of the evening, “Started From The Bottom”, “I told everyone I know that last night I had one of the best nights and best crowds of my life, but you might beat that motherfucker. This shit is already hot.” Yeah, yeah, yeah Dreezy, tell it to Weezy.
It’s a nice line, and he uses it all night long, but it isn’t true. It also isn’t true that it was a particularly long set: two hours and a touch, and that includes Future’s set in the middle. And it certainly isn’t the best show I’ve ever seen him perform, that would be at Forest Hills Stadium a coupla years ago, but it was the equal of Drake at Governors Ball and that was ace. Also, he fits in 40 songs while still missing one of his greatest, “Over My Dead Body”.
One reason why the Forest Hills gig was better than Friday’s during the completely sold out residency, was because Lil Wayne is better than Future. I like Future fine, wonderful to hear Drake and him nail down “Big Rings” and “Jumpers”. Plus, Future was much better than his simply bad set at the Power 105 gig last year, where Future let his posse take over, last night he was kept to ten tracks, including a terrific “New Level” and a superior “Fuck Me Up Some Commas” and, how can’t you love, “At The Same Damn Time”. But he wasn’t Lil Wayne, and Drake had already moved Future’s set once, and then when that didn’t help, cut it in half in an effort to stop it dragging the proceedings to a standstill. Saturday night, it was perfect. It worked. The Future performance fit well in the midst of Drake’s, just like the Everly Brothers set during Simon And Garfunkel’s in the 00s. Future is very popular and is gonna be bigger (he is just off a Rolling Stone cover story), and Drake just helped him play to his strengths. At half an hour, Future left before we were ready to see him go.
Predictably enough, the decision to open the doors at 630pm was without reason and the evening began at 8pm with new r&b singer Roy Woods, who performed a painless fifteen minutes and followed by the tedious r&b dvsn -both signed to Drake’s OVO label, hardly incidentally. But the surprise was excellent young rapper, New York’s own A Boogie Wit A Hoodie, aka A Boogie to you guys, “The Shit” is good and “Friend Zone” is great. Try his April mixtape Artist, A Boogie was a nice pick up, good decision, only ten minutes but well worth it.
Drake hit the stage at 930pm and performed the hits in a vaguely parathetic set, here are the biggies, there are the love things, another set within the set was summer songs, and the highlight were his verses from other people’s hit songs like “Work”. With just his DJ on the turntable and a keyboard player (“New York didn’t come here for no r&b shit” Drake interrupted with a smirk, though it was the only sound shadings in the show), Drake was essentially alone on stage, and sprinting but not casually through his biggest hits. It was excellent, if you love him as much as I do you’d be hard pushed to complain. If rap shows are about rapping, Drake, the biggest star in the world right now with the song of the summer in “One Dance” -and more than a handful of others this year alone, including “Hotline Bling”, rapped long and hard. The best, if not the only, effect (the LED screens were excellent, but Drake didn’t use em to amplify), were these round lamps descending from the roof in crazy and glorious patterns.
Drake brought out new Knick Derrick Rose (“MVP MVP” we chanted) lying about how Rose got Drake permission to perform longer (“do you want the short set or the long set?), like we don’t know they negotiate curfews in advance. Still, it was all part of the image of a hard working 29 year old Canadian giving the fans the raw meat of rap god. The problem is, Drake doesn’t even attempt to break through the layers of distance, instead of speaking to his fans (when he did on Thursday, it was solely to dis Funkmaster Flex. Funkmaster Flex? Talk about punching down), yet on stage he can’t or won’t break through to something real, to seriously connect with the audience. For all his promises of commitment, he treats us like a one night stand, whispering sweet nothings in our ear and promising us we are the best, that he will remember us forever. Then saying the exact same lies to the next one night stand. I feel a little sullied, like he is practising his moves on me and his moves are great. We are strippers and he is getting us to fuck him for free.
Hey, it’s all an act by an actor. Drake is a great rapper, a master of finding the beats and finding the hooks. A man who took a Kanye West concept, and has used it for years. The 808 plus heartbreak runs off with a rapper whose love life is a disaster and whose beefs are legend: it is pathologically self-centered hip hop, it doesn’t exist outside of its solipsistic world of girls gone bad and disses gone viral. But just by sharing em, Drake breaks em out. Every time Drake releases a new song, I catch on about a month after everybody else. I dissed his last three smash hits, they are too slow and drag hook candy for my ears, I need an audience to find their significance and now I love em all: heard as a smash grab of sound Friday night, the questions disappear, his relentless hooks, first rate, near the top of the class, rapping, and eye on the price of love lyric is the best in the business. It has you forgiving the we are all in this together audience manipulation and adds up to precisely what you want from Arena Rock. They are all singalingas, you know every hook, you reach the punchline before Drake does. If Kanye West is the Jackson Pollack of pop, Drake is the Andy Warhol: a utilitarian pop artists on a huge stage. A huge stage he seriously underused. Whoever choreographed the set should be fired, Drake had tons of real estate, but he sang at the lip of the station moving from left to right. He can’t dance, which explains some of his video moves.
Though during one of his best songs, “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, Drake took to a cherry picker and did that old business, shouting out specific members of the audience, all that “I see you, guy in the Yankee tee shirt with a big drink”. When Jay Z began the idea in 2009 at a benefit for the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund (my review here), there was an additional reason, to see the living victims of the lost heroes. When Hov said “I see you” there was an implication not said, “I see your pain”. Drake was just trying to connect, just coming on to us again, and yet with him up there and us down here, it was a little egotistical. Speaking of ego, as Drake summed it up on the last song of the evening, “I’m the one, one. Why do I feel like the only one? Why do I feel like you owe me one? 6 G-O-D, I’m the holy one.” Yeah, this gig sure sounds like a victory lap, nearly a decade after his first mixtape hit. But with Views STILL at # 1, there is already the background noise of Drake discussing a new mixtape dropping before the end of the year, the set is only as complete as the day he performed it. Prolific precision, that’s Drake for you. At the peak of his career, he was perfect. “You know what really bothers me about a night like tonight?” Drake asked mid show. “I’m gonna tell you. I do this a lot, this is my job, alright? But I’m like looking at you beautiful people making me feel like this isn’t work. This is like the best night I’ve ever had up here on stage.” Yeah, he says that to all his audiences, but that doesn’t mean I won’t drop my drawers.