Drake's Club Paradise Tour, Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion, 5/10/12

Drake's Club Paradise Tour featuring Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, French Montana, Waka Flocka Flame, J. Cole, and Drake Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion Thursday, May 10

See also: Drake's Take Care Is a Conflicted, Compelling Statement Check out the complete Drake Club Paradise Tour slideshow

There was a moment Thursday night during Drake's bombastic, flashy performance when I wondered whether Drake was going to review me. It was during an extended (10- or 15-minute-long) audience-appreciation segment, where Drake turned the lights on the crowd and shouted out girls he found sexy, guys he wanted to clown on, and little kids (who'd "better not go home cussin' and shit").

As his razor-sharp band -- a stellar drummer, keyboardist, guitarist, bassist, and DJ -- played an languid, soft jazz groove, Aubrey Drake Graham called out to his fans: the girl in the Sade shirt (he's a big fan), the girls with their hair looking all "Afrocentric and shit," and the dozens of fans wantonly violating the "don't wear a band shirt to said band's show" rule, sporting Young Money, OVOXO, YOLO, and Take Care shirts.

"I think of my fans as my family," he said, and while he softly crooned to specific audience members, it was easy to buy the somewhat cheesy statement. Selling that kind of humility (especially when you're lyrics include boasts like "Last name Ever/first name Greatest") is a tough sell, but Drake pulled it off with a boatload of charisma.

The Club Paradise Tour found Drake uniting a bunch of his favorites -- up-and-comers like Meek Mill, French Montana, and 2 Chainz, as well as the thudding, undeniable Wacka Flocka (caught most of his set from the parking lot and it was still massive sounding) and J. Cole, who wooed the crowd with a set of hyper-stylized soft jazz beats (it's the thing these days), crushing drums, and renditions of his hits like "Work Out" and "Can't Get Enough."

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But as deft as Cole was, there was no denying where the production budget went. Backed by flashing lights, screens, lasers, and a commanding band, Drake walked out to the impassioned screams of the audience. As the drums crashed, Drake tore into "Lord Knows," from Take Care.

"Phoenix, this is our first time together," he said, grinning. "This is our first mother fuckin' show in Phoenix. I just have one question, and I know my answer. But how the fuck are you feeling tonight?"

The crowd roared -- and didn't stop for the length of his hour and a half performance. He kept up the swagger talk, too, peppering his conversations with brags and plenty of extra swearing. There are plenty of people ready to dismiss him for not being "hard enough" (you know you're in trouble when Common is calling you out), but hard-or-not misses the point with Drake: he's a showman, a pop rapper with surprising chops, and a musical ambition that finds him simply bouncing around the stage as strobe lights blast and a clipped Gil-Scott Heron/jamie xx sample blares. He's simply "doing him," and the hip-hop climate has never been so embracing of artists like that.

I like The Weeknd's beats, and the gauzy sound of Take Care more than anything else Drake has done, but long stretches of slow jams and Drakes (admittedly on-point) vocalizing seem to drag the crowd down a bit. But Drake preached that "balance" was the key to his music. A song like "Marvin's Room" kills on its own, but it was particularly interesting to hear its restrained, creeping intensity just two songs after Wacka Flocka dominated the stage during a guest spot for "Round of Applause."

Drake took time out to dedicate "I'm So Proud of You" to the women of the audience, rapping that line about "women not satisfied with being secretaries," then moving with hilarious contrast to "Practice + Back That Azz Up," which featured cartoon asses bouncing on the screen behind him.

Ending with a triumphant take on "Headlines," which found the live band absolutely killing it and Drake at his most intense, I started to wonder about an encore. I always prefer it when a band leaves it all on stage with its last song, and indeed Drake opted to skip the encore. Instead, he simply talked to the crowd for a minute, shouted out his Young Money pals (next time he wants to bring Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne with him), and thanked the crowd, soaking up their cheers on a silent stage. It was a strange way to go out, but it felt oddly natural for Drake.

He's doing him -- as long as the crowd's doing him, too.


"Lord Knows" "Underground Kings" "Over (I'm Doing Me)" "Crew Love" "Up All Night" "No Lie" (featuring 2 Chainz) "Round of Applause" (featuring Wacka Flocka Flame) "Forever" "Marvin's Room" "Trust Issues" "Take Care" "Cameras" "Stay Scheming" (featuring French Montana) "Miss Me" "Over My Dead Body" "So Proud of You" "Make Me Proud" "Practice" "HYFR" "The Motto (YOLO)" "Headlines"

Critic's Notebook

Last night: Drake's Club Paradise Tour Better Than: Any club I've ever been to. Overheard: [Dude on a phone] "Nothing -- I'm just at this little show." Random Notebook Dump: Drake looks pretty goofy air-guitarring.

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