Concert Reviews

DAMN: Kendrick Lamar Is One Part Mona Lisa, Another Part God

Kendrick was on fire, as usual, at Coachella 2017.
Kendrick was on fire, as usual, at Coachella 2017. Mathew Tucciarone
Was Kendrick Lamar making eye contact with me?

I'm sure I wasn't the only person asking that Saturday, July 29, when he played the Pepsi Center. He’s a little like the Mona Lisa that way. Or God. We couldn't escape his gaze; he was bearing witness to our souls — all of us in the crowd, at once.

Lamar has this superpower — let’s call it the Kung Fu Kenny stare — that makes you feel like he’s rapping to you. It’s almost not human.

Most people standing before tens of thousands of rabid fans — and I’m talking people losing their minds like they used to for Elvis or the Beatles or Michael Jackson or Prince — might blush or become overly excited. Not Lamar. He watched the crowd's fervor, observing it all without being affected, like someone schooled in meditation, which he is.

He first appeared before us through a trap door. He could have launched into a song, but he didn’t. He just knelt there. And waited. Maybe praying? ("Nobody's praying for me," we were reminded throughout the show.) Maybe grounding himself? Maybe there was a tech problem? Whatever it was, we screamed. He waited. We screamed some more. He waited some more — all before launching into “DNA.”

What energy he lacked between songs he made up for as he performed, whether his music was dealing with anger, pride, injustice or theology.

Toward the middle of his set, he made his way to the center of the floor to rap in a cage and then be lifted above the crowd. As frenzied fans surrounded him, his security looked nervous. When he rushed back to the main stage and people tried to grope him, it was clear: For many, Lamar isn't a mere mortal. Fans want to reach out and take a bit of his divine force for their own. He is their artist, their prophet, their hip-hop-rebel-poet fighting with words.

No wonder he needs to meditate.

On stage and alone with his pen, Lamar comes off as a pure artist, and a gracious one at that. He praised his fans who had been there from the beginning of his career, people who had gone to his concerts when they were a fraction of the size that they are today. Their loyalty clearly means a lot to Lamar. (Loyalty is a constant theme in his songs.) And his return to Denver meant a lot to them.

Early on in the concert, he promised a long night, which he delivered. When he came back on stage for his encore, he asked the crowd for permission to do just one more number: “God."

As quickly as he arrived, he left us, dizzied by his grandeur, having seen and been seen by a man who rightly says, "This what God feel like." If anyone knows, it's Kendrick Lamar.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris