Drake's songs can sometimes make him sound like someone who spends a lot of time sitting in front of a window, watching rain and dialing up exes. That vulnerable side of the performer, if it exists, stayed in the recording studio when he played US Airways Center Saturday night. Drake was engaging, charming and on one.
Drake kept in the shadows to perform "Tuscan Leather," the first track on his third and latest album, Nothing Was the Same, with his sophomore album singles "Headlines" and "Crew Love" verses mixed in, then he largely paced along the raised circle platform on stage while performing a medley of NWTS hits -- an unnecessary test of the crowd's preparedness for the show. Thousands of voices frequently caught the two-month-old verses when Drake threw his microphone toward the audience.
After this medley, Drake played a few back-to-back featured verses from Rick Ross' "Don't Stop (Pop That)" to DJ Khaled's "No New Friends" and "I'm On One" and 2 Chainz's "No Lie." "I've got a hundred of those motherfuckers. We could do this all night," Drake said before a well-received version of Migos' "Versace," which was maddeningly fun to listen to and watch. It was an intense build that ended with a bang -- and pyrotechnics.
Supporting act Future then took the stage "at the same damn time" as Drake to perform "Bitches Love Me," "Same Damn Time" and "Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2."
The ladies in the crowd were then asked to sing Jhene Aiko's parts in "From Time," before the end of which Drake was lowered beneath stage. In the meantime, a DJ within the circle platform played a medley of Drake's original hits -- "Successful," "Over," "Miss Me," "I'm Going In," and "Forever" among them.
Then, fog was pumped over the stage and into the audience until it looked like a giant cloud. Drake returned -- in different sneakers, same outfit -- to sing the radio-dominating "Hold On, We're Going Home," which, unfortunately, was the closest thing to a low point of his performance. It sounded a little like Asiz Ansari singing Drake at a karaoke bar; his voice was a bit more nasally than usual.
All was quickly forgotten when an audience member (who also happened to be a Toronto native, like Drake, now living in Phoenix) was brought on-stage to be serenaded. He played with the audience member's afro, spun her around, and kissed her forehead before she was escorted off the stage.
The music faded and Drake turned back toward the audience: "Fuck all this deep-emotion shit."
Then he went hard into "Worst Behavior" and "The Language." Later, a halo lowered from the rafters that allowed him to stand above the audience. Note: The halo lowered during the song "305 To My City," which offered a too-convenient chorus of "drop down, drop-drop down, drop-drop" and "get it, I get it."
For the next 15 minutes, Drake circled above the audience, pointing out specific members on the left, right and center of the stadium -- from the upper levels and those in the lower and floor seats. It was a mix of observational comedy ("Jean shorts - good one." Or "Girl in the pink sweater, my god.") and hitting on guys' girlfriends, (read: jokingly asking to borrow her for the night.)
Shout out to the optometrists of young Drizzy Drake. He put it to effortless use, keeping his mouth-eye coordination semi-rhythmic.
Upon his descent from the rafters, he dove into A$AP Rocky's "Fuckin' Problems," "The Motto" and "HYFR." "Next was "All Me," which he said had his favorite breakdown -- the part that begins "Ho, shut the fuck up." People went nuts -- even more so than when someone on stage said the word "Phoenix."
The show ended triumphantly with "Started From the Bottom" and, finally, indoor fireworks. No, not just pillars of sparks or fancy lasers. We're talking dandelions of light -- and the symbol of Drake's success -- a mix of the explosive hardness of a superstar and the childlike vulnerability of an artist between which Drake so often oscillates.
Miguel: Opener Miguel was a real crowd pleaser. His soulful performance and body language were a modern take on Prince and Rick James. (If this whole smoldering pop star thing doesn't pan out, he most definitely has a future in professional air sex.) He worked the crowd -- everything short of tossing keys to his hotel room into the crowd. Or maybe we missed that.
His stage was tiny, but he made it work, standing atop a few strobe-lit boxes for nearly his entire set. Really, though, it only took a few flashes of shoulder skin and pelvis thrusts to keep the crowd attentive -- just in case his seductive falsettos couldn't break through the hormonal cloud.
Critic's Notebook: What: Drake at US Airways on November 16 The crowd: Confident in being good-looking. Average prep time estimated to be 2.45 hours. Overheard: A symphony of car horns in the Colliers Center parking garage after the concert. It went without intermission for at least 30 minutes. Personal bias: I'm a believer in what I once heard a DJ on 101.5 say: "If you stand in front of a mirror and say Drake's name three times, your ex's face will appear."
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Set List: "Tuscan Leather"/"Headlines"/"Crew Love" "Furthest Thing" "Wu-Tang Forever" "Connect" "Don't Stop (Pop That)" - Rick Ross feat. Drake "No New Friends" - DJ Khaled "No Lie" - 2 Chainz "I'm On One" - DJ Khaled "Versace" "Bitches Love Me" - Lil Wayne + Future "Same Damn Time" - Future "Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2" "The Motion" "Come Thru" "From Time" "Successful"/"Uptown"/"Over"/"Miss Me"/"I'm Going In"/"Forever"/"Take Care" "Hold On, We're Going Home" "Worst Behavior." "The Language" "305 To My City" "Fuckin' Problems" "The Motto" "HYFR" "All Me" "Started From the Bottom"