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article imageReview: Drake delights hometown crowd in Toronto Special

By Burke Mudge     Oct 25, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - On October 25 at the Air Canada Centre, Torontonians got to see something unique and rare: a returning hometown hero at the top of his game. Welcome back, Drake.
Aubrey Drake Graham celebrated his 27th birthday in style by playing a nearly two hour set filled with hit after hit for a crowd that was eager to welcome their favourite globetrotting artist home.
The concert opening was well-staged as the arena went pitch black and the anticipation began to rise in synch with the simple slow rising platform at the top of the stage (the same platform he would later use to slowly exit on at the end). The stage itself had an aesthetic of clean lines and a simple glowing circular pathway he could walk up and around on whenever he felt so inclined. The rest of the stage offered the usual points to enable him to strut out to the farthest corners on either side. What was truly impressive was the enormous and well-lit metallic circular gated stage that allowed him later to engage with his fans in the upper levels and bring him even closer to the adoring throngs who clung to his every verse.
What is remarkable about Drake is that at 27, he’s already got an incredibly extensive repertoire of bonafide hits. Many artists go their entire careers without such a catalogue to draw on. The man clearly has a gift of mixing a hip hop style seamlessly into R&B and back again. For many rappers, singing may not necessarily be something they want to venture into - without the aid of some autotuning - but for Drake, singing is a legitimate departure from traditional rapping. Moving in and out of both genres with such efficacy is a rare skill, but he does it with relative ease. When it comes to rapping, he was already highly sought after due to his mixtape releases before he signed with Li’l Wayne’s “Young Money Entertainment”. Indeed, when he wants, Drake can spit rhymes with the best of them. Lyrically, unlike many in the game, Drake employs and enjoys wordplay in his writing. One example from the “Take Care” album: “Shout out to Asian girls, let the lights dim sum” which became a highly quoted instant classic.
Well-concealed inside the glowing blue ‘O’ stage was a barely visible group of musicians and a DJ. Thanks to their superb behind the scenes work, the sound as well as Drake's delivery all evening was tight. The consistency of Drake's timing is noteworthy because I think audiences often forget the volume of words artists have to memorize. Moreover, it’s staggering to think of the amount of lyrics a rapper has to remember - but that is what they do - and he did so constantly on beat and also knew when and how to work the crowd.
It seemed virtually every song was a crowd –pleaser. This is something rather amazing to consider, that Drake essentially owned the crowd and sustained their energy for the nearly two hour show as an almost entirely solo act. While Atlanta-based rapper Future did join him briefly at one point onstage and later, he shared a duet with singer Jhene Aiko who offered some further depth and soul to the night, this show was all Drake. Most artists typically have a band to fall back on and shoulder some of the spotlight however Drake was more than content and capable to keep the flow going himself with his extensive rhythms and rhymes.
He also kept a relentless pace and found ways to keep connecting with the audience in ways I haven’t really ever seen before. While it’s clear Drake is so proud of his Toronto roots he got a CN Tower tattoo and has even linked up with the Raptors as a global ambassador, I’m quite certain I will never hear any other artist give shout outs to the familiar highways of 401 and Hurontario or Allen Road and Eglinton and hear such unbelievably thunderous cheers.
There’s no doubt, the performer and audience relationship is a funny one when it comes to getting one’s city and her landmarks mentioned. It is of course one of the easiest ways for an artist to get a cheer and for some reason, it always will. No matter how silly it is, the artist, whoever they may be seems to validate the audience as having significance by knowing who they are as city. It’s a cheap ploy but no one cares, they scream their hearts out. The timeless parody “This Is Spinal Tap” speaks to that hilarious audience/artist relationship in that great scene where the band can’t remember where or what city they are playing in. Inane or not, geographic recognition matters in live shows.
Speaking of audience validation and connecting with fans, as I alluded to before, Drake took it to a new level when he was in the rising gated circular stage that lifted him to the eye-level of the nose-bleed seated die-hards and literally started going around the circle and calling people out. He was actually distinguishing each fan he could see with simple words like “I see you with the Raptors hat on” or “I see you in the red shirt.” As many people as he could single out, he would do so. Frankly, he walked around the entire raised stage and connected with fans left and right while music played on in the background. It actually vaguely reminded me of the movie scene in Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” where Colin Farrell’s character, pre-battle, called out by name as many of his fellow soldiers as he could, perhaps saying a little something about each one that showed he remembered them, it effectively connects and links people. So while Drake was not going into battle but rather had nothing but love thrown his way, he was doing something quite savvy, which was taking the faceless concert- goer and connecting with them in a unique way. Those fans can now take this visceral concert experience back home with them, guaranteeing enduring support.
Artists make a living due to the unwavering financial support of their fans and this was something I must say was a brilliant move on many levels, though it did go on a bit long. In the classic rock era, many rock bands like Guns and Roses used to make a habit of treating their fans with contempt and often ended concerts early on a whim or they showed up late, either way they didn’t care. If it started a riot, it made a good press release and built their name as a ‘dangerous’ band. For this group of modern artists not only did this concert start on time the acts were also all high quality. Party Next Door opened up followed by Future and then of course the soulful Miguel who could have actually headlined this show himself. Miguel definitely gave a nod to Prince with his doing the splits at the microphone and bouncing back up in a blink. His energy was a perfect precursor to the boisterous beats that Drake subsequently unleashed.
When the lights began to dim some and the modest pyrotechnic smoke began to drift away, Drake found himself, by his own admission “Speechless for the first time in my life.” It seemed the realization of being back in his home city, selling out the Air Canada Centre and doing so on his birthday was a moment worthy of savoring for a few seconds more. He pledged to continue to make this city proud and based on his stellar performance delivered last night he will be heartily welcomed back to the best seats at Sotto Sotto and a few nights of a sold out arena waiting for some fresh Canadian art.
Drake performs to an adoring crowd on his birthday Thursday night at ACC in Toronto.
Drake performs to an adoring crowd on his birthday Thursday night at ACC in Toronto.
The mobile circular stage allowed Drake to perform for all levels at the ACC
The mobile circular stage allowed Drake to perform for all levels at the ACC
The mobile circular stage allowed Drake to perform for all levels at the ACC
The mobile circular stage allowed Drake to perform for all levels at the ACC
Toronto Rapper Drake holds court in front of a sold out ACC.
Toronto Rapper Drake holds court in front of a sold out ACC.
Drake walks the elevating circular stage and connects with the upper level crowd.
Drake walks the elevating circular stage and connects with the upper level crowd.
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