Drake is happy. The hip-hop artist – whose sad-boy bravado not only made his name but made his sound mainstream in popular music – seems, at least for now, to have shed the chip on his shoulder. Though the rapper claims to have dedicated his Summer Sixteen Tour to “revenge,” during this weekend's two-night sold-out stand at Denver's Pepsi Center, Drake appeared to be buoyant – and with good reason.
By the time Drizzy took the stage at 10 p.m., the arena's alcohol sales had been shut down, but the crowd – which had been warming up in earnest for hours – was making enough noise to lift anyone. The arena was louder than it was for Bieber, maybe because the screaming voices belonged to adults. Drake himself referenced the Biebz when he playfully accused his keyboardist of turning the show into some “acoustic Bieber shit” and admonished him to “hit the button” and keep the party going. It's true that Drake was hosting the party in Denver last night, even before he made it to the stage.
When Drake did appear, rising from a platform amid smoke and explosive noises, he came with an automatic energy that never lagged. The next two hours was a choreographed medley of the first half of each of his many hits, punctuated with gracious banter and bursts of flame. We were treated to Drake's patented faux-cumbia dance moves (thrust count: five). We got conversational yet muscular flow, and we got Drake's bare arms. In one moment, Drake cited one of his first performances with Lil Wayne, which happened in Denver, where he provided the hook on “Ransom.” Then he did some bona fide crooning, his voice smoother than on record. He continued to woo us from what looked like a metal hot-air balloon basket hoisted around the arena singing “Hold On, We're Going Home” and pointing out fans below.
It's always interesting how megastars approach the problem of forging fan connections in a huge arena. Drake dedicated a significant portion of the night to making his audience feel seen – shouting out various sections, making eye contact with fans and calling them out individually: “You in the blue shirt,” “I see you in the glasses, showing love,” “Three pretty girls making my night,” etc. It's a corny ploy, but isn't that part of Drake's charm, flashing those cheesy grins? No matter what, Drake was committed to showing gratitude, and it counted.
At 10:55 p.m. – just when we thought he might not show up – Future emerged from a trap door in the stage. From the jump, Drake had been going on about the crowd's energy level, touting it as “the best,” “the craziest” and his favorite of the tour. He promised that Future was going to take the show to the next level, then disappeared for the rapper's 25-minute set. Drake reappeared wearing a Von Miller jersey (he wore No. 18 on Sunday), and they closed out with “Jumpman” together.
At 11:41 p.m., Drake took a rare break to apologize for being late, saying that he was sitting on a runway for two hours. Because it's a rap show, he said, the artists had to be off the stage at 11 p.m. (“something called a curfew”), and he didn't know whether he was being charged $1,000 or $5,000 for every minute he stayed on stage. But because he promised Denver “the long show” and the best show, he said, staying on message, he didn't care what they took from his paycheck: “I'm playing for free tonight!” Promising “no more love songs,” Drake got through “Back to Back,” “Know Yourself” (one of the few tracks allowed a full-length experience) and “Energy,” before ending with “Legend.”
Lest Drake end on the “loneliest king” note, he took a last moment to encourage the crowd, in the midst of troubled times, to look around at all the different races and ages around them and be thankful that all kinds of people can come together for this night of music. The audience tried to live up to Drake's declarations that we were the best, the loudest, doing the most work, etc., and waves of heat radiated from the spouts of flame still sparking out on stage.
Summer Sixteen is over now, and the future's on fire, but at least it's bright.