And he proved why he’s on top on Thursday, delivering a colossal 135-minute performance that touched on dozens of hits, in whole or in part, and was set against a gorgeous, eye-popping production that ups the stakes for arena concert experiences across the board.
A rig with dozens of round white lights hung from the rafters, like a tray of ping pong balls suctioned to the ceiling. It gave the arena a cool modern art look and it would have been enough had they had just sat up there, untouched. But 45 minutes into the show they began to lower and light up, dancing along with Drake to his smash single “Hotline Bling.”
The orbs lowered to different heights, sometimes in rows, sometimes in waves and sometimes in patterns that resembled cartoon strands of DNA. It was like a controlled balloon drop the production was able to manipulate and alter on the fly, and the way the lights glowed in radiant pinks and neon blues, it made the arena feel like a dream space. The Palace pulsated and seemed smaller and more connected, and the innovative production is likely to make both Coldplay and Arcade Fire so jealous that they’ll either hire Drake’s team for their next tours or fire their guys for not coming up with it first.
But it wasn’t all production gags that made the night a winner. Drake was electrifying, holding down the stage by himself while maintaining a steady dialogue with the crowd and keeping the energy levels of both himself and the crowd high throughout the night.
Pumping his fists, jumping in place, leaning into his syllables and falling back on his heels for emphasis, Drake gave a very physical performance, and one that resonated from the floor to the rafters. He opened with “Summer Sixteen” and the “Views” track “Still Here,” and when he rolled into “Started from the Bottom,” released all the way back in 2013, it felt like a golden oldie from a Greatest Hits set.
He did dip into the way back file for snippets of several tracks from his debut album, 2010’s “Thank Me Later,” but the focus was on material released in the last year and a half, which to Drake’s credit includes three No. 1 albums. Even last summer’s “Back to Back,” the track which ended his hilariously one-sided feud with Meek Mill, became massive, with Drake throwing to the crowd for lines like “is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?” and the crowd spitting it back like Guns N’ Roses fans singing “Paradise City.”
If Drake made everything on stage look easy, Future proved just how hard it is up there. The Atlanta rapper doesn’t have a tenth of Drake’s charisma or performance ability, and his 35-minute performance, sandwiched in the middle of Drake’s set and buffered on either end by collaborations with him, was tedious and nearly a momentum killer. The audio was cranked noticeably higher during his set and he was joined by several dancers, all in an effort to overcompensate for his lacking chops. But even with a cache of anthems to choose from – like Drake, Future employs a no-off season strategy when it comes to releasing new material – his performance waned, picked up only by Drake’s assistance on “Big Rings” and “Jumpman.”
Drake finished the night with a trio of songs from last year’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” release, closing with “Legend,” in which he repeats the refrain, “oh my God, if I die I’m a legend.” It’s an example of the sort of self-mythology that has long been a staple of hip-hop artists, but he needn’t introduce death into the mix. If Drake’s a legend it’s because he’s put in the hard work, and nights like Thursday are all a part of his tale.