It seems Tyga -- last night's opener -- got the memo that donning a puffy vest in Colorado makes you automatically likable. We have braved decades of trends in those things, and nothing makes you look native quite like sleeveless body armor made out of sleeping-bag material. Unfortunately, the familiar apparel choice was the only comforting thing about Tyga's performance. Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, the resident Young Money skinny man's set was dry, abrasive and boring.
Dropping his verses from "Loyalty" and playing a portion of "Steady Mobbin'," Tyga offered a set that sputtered with an unfinished showmanship, his tiny figure hunching across the stage in that overwhelming jacket. His backing tracks suffered from leveling issues -- no conceivable balance between the high and low end was ever achieved, leading to blown-out bass and soggy samples -- leaving even the classic, fail-safe "It Takes Two," by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, sounding like it was coming out of a gurgling telephone receiver.
New track "Really Raw" had some lyrically humorous appeal, but even it was quickly sideswiped by Tyga's offensive use of twenty seconds of R. Kelly's "Bump and Grind" and Usher's "Nice & Slow" -- off-putting mostly because the rapper did nothing to the songs, appeasing fans in some capacity just by letting the tracks play. Tyga's performance wasn't horrible as much as it was blasé and patronizing, particularly when he decided to make an exit to Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang," without so much as a pretend sing-along.
Drake appeared around 9:10 p.m., hidden behind sunglasses, his ego jumping out from a cool stance and filling the dark amphitheatre as it warmed with a purplish glow. He set off the show with "9AM in Dallas" as tufts of fruit-infused weed smoke mixed with maddening screams bubbling up from women at every angle of the stage. "Forever" moved the handsome gentleman to remove his eyewear and jean jacket as "Up All Night" rolled right into "Show Me a Good Time."
With little time left before Young Money Records' head honcho Lil Wayne is released from prison, the "Free Weezy" theme was on the tips of both performers' tongues during the show. Drake took several opportunities to share phone conversations and personal stories with his attentive audience, getting humble (if only for a few moments) about Lil Wayne's impact on his career.
Drizzy's flow was flawless, with songs like "The Resistance," "Karaoke" and "Successful" showing a maturity since his last time around -- not rushed or pushed out, but instead timely and cadenced. The only looming annoyance, exemplified in "Fireworks," was the ratio of rapping to crooning: There wasn't nearly enough of Drake's smoldering vocals shared throughout the show. But his verses on the Young Jeezy track "Lose My Mind" made this fact forgettable, followed succinctly by Birdman's "Money to Blow" and a snippet of Weezy's growl from "I'm Goin' In."
Despite word of Drake's cancellation of a pre-show meet-and-greet with fans due to being under the weather, he appeared strong, breezing through Wayne's "Right Above It," the collaborative "Every Girl," the Young Money summer hit "Bedrock" and a dedication of Weezy's "Single" to the ladies in the building.
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Product placement took center stage momentarily, under the guise of the adoration of a woman in the audience, one who was lucky enough to score a BlackBerry from Drake and his sponsor, AT&T. Hands grabbed at the star as he handed the phone to the lucky woman, asking her to call him later. Drake also took the break from performing to wax philosophically about a new school of rappers he saw taking over the next few years, name-dropping Wale, Wiz Kalifa and Nicki Minaj, among others.
Moving on, Drake brought out "Shut It Down," highlighted by a nameless backup singer beautifully following his vocals from the shadows. The show then took another strange turn, becoming a temporary tribute to Aaliyah, projected imagery and all. But beyond the weirdness, he started to sew up the set with "Unforgettable," "Say Something" and "Miss Me," turning his shameless flirt routine on for a good ten minutes, pointing out audience members by their outfits and talking explicitly about the breasts of a woman in the front row.
That self-indulgent monotony ended, Drake turned on the star power with "Fancy," "Find Your Love" and what would be the last song of the evening, fittingly, "Over." Getting band introductions, a Free Weezy speech and a last few bats of his lashes out of the way, Drake was free to leave his adoring crowd, no encore needed.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Drake's last show, at the Ogden Theatre in March, was up there with Pitbull's ability to channel Tom Jones's animalistic stage presence. I expected the same this time around. Random Detail: I was surprised that, other than my own, I only spotted three other "Free Weezy" T-shirts in the crowd. By the Way: Walking up to the theater tonight, I heard a woman in a passing car yell, "Who's got see-through pants on? I do!" I'm 99 percent sure she was heading to the same show I was.