I first saw Drake perform at a hotel on Sunset Blvd. back in 2009 for a small tech company party. Back then he was known but not that well known that I wasn’t able to push my way to the front of the crowd and stare up at him on the chest-height stage. He was charismatic and garrulous, cracking jokes between sets, and really giving each song his all.
Seven years have passed since then and Drake’s fame quota has since skyrocketed. Arguably the most famous person from Canada, he’s dropped four studio albums, two mixtapes, and one EP in the span of six years, and a whole lotta hits. We have Drake to thank for the catchy tropical ditty “Hotline Bling” and for making the phrase “started from the bottom” a thing. Because of Drake, rappers can now show their softer sides — both lyrically and vocally — and it’s cool to dance like a dorky dad.
When I arrived at Oracle Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 13, I admit I had expectations. Sure, he’s not at Beyonce’s level yet, but he’s on his way there. Case in point: Even my 65-year-old aunt knows who he is. Given the degree of his celebrity — and the presumable millions of dollars he rakes in with each new single — I was expecting a grand performance from him. Maybe he wouldn’t dance on water or sit in a throne like Queen Bey does on her Formation Tour, but I figured he’d do something big.
I was wrong — sorta. Other than his Kevin Durant Golden State Warrior’s jersey, Drake’s outfits were banal and plain. (He also only wore tank tops; perhaps to show off his beefy biceps?) There were very few backup dancers and I only noticed them about halfway into the show. Both their outfits and routines were so nondescript that I can’t even tell you more details on it.
If you like explosions and pyrotechnics though, then you would have loved this show. I kid you not when I say that the brief explosions of fire were so jarring and loud that I jumped a few times because they caught me off guard. How Drake kept his composure and place in his songs with sparks a’ flying around him is beyond me.
Drake’s banter also sucked. A lot. Showing zero personality, he recited canned lines that everyone in the audience had no doubt heard before. He instructed us to put our hands in the air, to jump, and, on multiple occasions, to make noise. He asked, “Where the ladies at?” and then tried to cajole us into cheering as loudly as we could for him because he’d made “a bet to see who’s the loudest city” and he was “putting [his] money on the Bay” because we seemed like “a special crowd.” From a guy like Drake, beloved for his confessional lyrics and clever witticisms, you’d think he’d have something more interesting to say than the average MC. But I guess he didn’t.
But he did put in the effort. He literally ran from one side of the stage to the next while spitting lines, and he sang a good half dozen or so songs live without taking a break or lip syncing.
There were guest appearances, too. Singer Daniel Dailey of dvsn came out to sing the end of “Faithful” off Drake’s most recent album, Views. Future, in an ill-planned scheduling decision, took over for a few songs during the middle of Drake’s set, singing some of his more recent hits (but certainly not his best songs), like “Same Damn Time,” “Karate Chop,” and “Move That Dope.” Drake then rejoined him on stage and the two performed “Jumpman” and “Big Rings” together.
Toward the end of the roughly two hour, 40 song long set, Drake took a moment to address the fact that yes, he was going overtime. “We’re past curfew,” he said, “but I had one guy say I could keep this building open as long as I wanted. You want to meet him?” That “guy” ended up being Kevin Durante who rather shyly walked on stage in an all black ensemble with his arms crossed. He stood there for about a minute, and then he disappeared into the bowels of backstage. That’s it. Nothing more interesting to report there.
There were two rather cool parts to the show that I have yet to mention. The lighting was awesome. Hundreds of round globes filled the entire arena, often coated in a pink hue and giving off some very 1950s prom night vibes. In intricate patterns, they’d move in time with the music and it was a beautiful sight to behold. Drake might not have had a floating stage a la Kanye West on his Saint Pablo tour, but he did have a metal basket hanging from a track on the ceiling that moved above the audience giving fans an up-close look at their idol.
A good assortment of old songs — “The Motto,” “HYFR,” “Headlines,” “No Lie,” “I’m On One” — and newer stuff — “Controlla,” “Hotline Bling,” “Faithful,” “Child’s Play,” “Work,” “For Free” — were played, and you’ve gotta give the guy points for keeping his set list broad instead of only playing stuff from the most recent album.
Still, I wish he’d played “Best I’ve Ever Had,” just like he did when I saw him in 2009.