Monday night, Staples Center, Los Angeles, North America. Headliner is Aubrey Drake Graham, representative from Young Money/Cash Money/October’s Very Own family of labels, and of north North America, specifically Toronto. Time ticket says show starts: 7 p.m. Meaning of “7 p.m.” in this context: 7 p.m.! Therefore: Representative from Grantland dot com arrives late for opening set by Future. Representative from Grantland dot com is still finding seat as Future, leather-pantsed, begins climactic spin through hits: “Turn on the Lights”/“U.O.E.N.O.”/“Bugatti.” DJ for Future stops music before “Bugatti” line RE: smoking “good Jamaican” so Future can instead praise/toke California’s native cannabis. Purple-lit fog fills stage during “Honest.” Future acknowledges lone stage-right audience member waving “KISS ME” sign, seems sincerely appreciative. DJ for Future exhorts crowd: “If you from California, make some noise!” Crowd, by volume of reaction, is predominantly from here.
Future’s stage set: Minimal. Consists of DJ podium decorated with Ramonesish “Freebandz” seal, DJ, and Future. Stage set for second opener, Miguel, involves many Tetris-block banks of lights. Assembly required. Primary set-change activity for Drake fans at Staples Center: Selfie-taking. Representative from Grantland dot com has sensation of being repeatedly/inadvertently immortalized as weird guy in background of multiple selfies. Representative from Grantland dot com reflects on institution of ever-more-stringent anti-smoking laws and concurrent uptick in popularity of selfie-taking. Replacement idle-hand activity? Representative from Grantland dot com reflects on Drake’s music — intimate/confessional, remote/calculated, by turns — as expression or possibly endpoint of a “selfie” aesthetic. Writes “like a musical selfie” in notebook. Ponders phrase “musical selfie”: Too Entertainment Weekly? Too Lisa Robinson? Probably is. Also, “selfie”= terrible word. Like poking tongue in rotten tooth. Representative from Grantland dot com ponders alarming red spider crawling past sneaker toe, stageward bound. Hashtag RIPDrake, hashtag spiderbite?
Drake merch, designwise: Tragically disappointing. Title of Drake album NOTHING WAS THE SAME in boring font, picture of Drake, on shirt. Like Drake shirt purchased from Jersey Shore boardwalk store. Audience members wearing own Drake-related shirts have better Drake-related shirts; for example, white teenager in T-shirt all-over printed w/ OCTOBER’S VERY OWN in NWA/Ruthless font. (Later, largish African American audience member wearing same shirt walks past white kid, gives him a pound, addresses him as “Potna,” white kid grins as if approved-of by actual celebrity.) Strangest bootleg merch on offer outside venue: Large Drake buttons, like very large, as if pressed from button-making machine by manager of Drake’s high school treasurer campaign. Most Drake-appropriate menu item at California Pizza Kitchen concession-node by Section 111 entrance: “Tuscan Hummus.” Number of slices CPK cuts a 10-inch pizza into at concession-node: only four, because CPK knows you’re going to eat the whole thing and doesn’t judge you for it.
Reason for overattention to merch/pizza-related matters on representative from Grantland dot com’s part: Miguel-paragraph-writing avoidance. But, OK. Miguel: Enthusiastic nonfactor. Wears feathery fringed leather jacket, like raven-god, over T-shirt spray-painted with “ART GANG”; alternates James Brown spin/shuffle/split footwork & contrived “rocker” poses. Thought: ART GANG is probably not very dangerous gang. Mohawked white guitarist takes encyclopedically varied solo, as if auditioning for job with Chili Peppers. ART GANG means never not letting that guy take solo. For “Pussy Is Mine,” Miguel produces own electric guitar, plays barre chords. Miguel as guitarist: unremarkable and therefore charming. Miguel expresses desire to be who the ladies think about in the event they go home alone tonight and touch selves in bed. Miguel exhorts dudes who’ve had sex to Miguel’s music to make selves heard. Miguel describes self as audience’s “autopilot wingman.” Miguel changes into jacket covered with rock-band patches — Zeppelin, Stones tongue, Prince glyph. Miguel: talked into whole “rock” thing by stylist? Makes reference to guy down front w/ arms folded, SMH-ing at Miguel because “this motherfucker got on a leather and a guitar on his back.” Sound mix is unrelenting, sonic details overly bright; “rock” portions of program perhaps unintentionally evocative of, like, Crowded House or something? But better than that sounds? Miguel: Also better than he sounds? Jury: Out.
Rumored Kardashian/Jenner presences: Kendall, Kylie. Kardashian/Jenner presences visually confirmed by Grantland dot com representative following outbreak of localized screaming near raised VIP platform: Khloe, Kris. Pre-Drake set-change music: Aaliyah’s “Let Me Know (At Your Best)” (totemic); “Body Party”; “Feds Watching”; Tupac’s “Hail Mary” (positional gesture for West Coast). Unexpected pre-Drake set-change entertainment: Dramatic fight between mom and teenage daughter in next row, conducted entirely in old-person-eyesight-friendly 24-point-size text messages on mom’s phone. Mom is here as chaperone; daughter, with friend, is begging to watch remainder of show unchaperoned. Daughter-approved show-watching locations for mom: Chairs in food area, restroom. Daughter’s texts: Anguished.
mom please we are SAFE I give you my word
i have been getting really good grades lately mom GO PLEASE
MOM PLEASE CAN’T YOU AT LEAST NOT BE HERE FOR DRAKE MOM PLEASE
Mom remains in seat next to daughter. Daughter leans away from her as if from unhygienic person on bus. In VIP area, Kris Jenner bobs exuberantly to “N----s in Paris.” Moms: Embarrassing.
And: Drake. Stage set: Vast backdrop screen, angled O-shaped runway with three-person band inside, identical O-shaped object suspended above lower O. Reference points: Melissa Leo spaceship from Oblivion, interdimensional portal, OVO logo (subtly). Throughout set, vast screen does heavy lifting, visually/mood-wise: James Turrell–esque color blocks, Michael Mann–esque high-def video of Drake driving Ferraris at night, IMAX-movie-about-coolness-of-IMAX-esque helicopter shots of frozen lakes near Toronto. Screen smears/superimposes live shots of Drake on taped stuff, creating sense that even now-happening moments are predigested. Drake: Normal-size man, perfunctory dance moves, sunset-print tank top with single chest-area rectangle of blue sky. Opening sequence goes “Tuscan Leather”/“Headlines”/“Crew Love”/third verse of “Tuscan Leather.” Drake introduces himself (“I go by the name of Aubrey Drake Graham”) & expresses excitement to be back in Los Angeles, which he describes as his second home. Houston: Cancel manufacture of “SECOND HOME OF DRAKE” license-plate frames immediately.
Drop-back paragraph regarding newest Drake album, Nothing Was the Same: Musically/beatwise, lacks hard sound/soft sound interplay that, on Take Care, mirrored/metaphorized Drake’s own toggling between posturing/vulnerable and YOLO/doleful. Mix inexplicably places vocals high above more-interesting-than-ever tracks by Noah “40” Shebib, as if voice and music are fancy magazines on different tiers of multileveled glass coffee table. Live, this weakness = strength, though, as sound mix never buries Drake’s monotone quack. Still: Content of NWTS feels remote, allusive but not expressive, only the residue of Take Care’s honesty. Also absent: Sense, prevalent on Take Care, that Drake worries/feels guilt about not living by his values. Instead: Increased defensiveness, fantasies about attending high school reunion just to make everyone jealous &/or force them to go through security clearance, showpiece Jay Z cameo-rap that is basically just Jay Z saying “Cake, cake, cake, cake, cake.” Difference between musical selfie and musical dick pic: Camera angle.
Extent to which any of these issues seem to matter to anyone in Staples Center who is not the representative from Grantland dot com: Zero percent. Their enthusiasm/Drake’s enthusiasm for their enthusiasm quickly wears the representative from Grantland dot com’s resistance down. Hit songs also help: “We can do this all night, I got like 100 of these [hit songs],” Drake says, after “Pop That” & “I’m on One” but before “Versace” & “Fuckin’ Problems” & “Up All Night” & “The Motto” & “HYFR” & “Started From the Bottom” & & & & &. Also: Cameos, well-placed set list–wise (anytime show’s tone leaned toward Drake Mopes Handsomely Around His Circular Fortress of Solitude) and well-chosen, illustrating Drake’s genius for subgenre triangulation. “Love Me” feat. Future. “Make Me Proud” feat. Nicki Minaj, followed by Nicki Minaj just barely finishing sentence “I love you, Drake” before being whisked from stage via trapdoor/elevator. Finally, papal visit from Snoop Dogg, intro’d by Drake as “one of the heroes of this shit” and “one of my favorite people in the world” (& later, “one of the most important people in the world,” full stop). Point at which Snoop’s extended cameo began to feel like Drake kissing L.A.’s ass unnecessarily: Between “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Drake’s demeanor while performing “Drop It” alongside Snoop: Joyful, dorky, contest-winnerish.
Drake’s inherent & unconcealable dorkiness: Vitally important. Sometimes a saving grace. Negates, for example, potential awkwardness of moment when female audience member is brought up through giant O and onto stage, to be sung to. In L.A. it’s Gina, white woman, in flowered pants and canary-yellow sweater. Drake, to Gina: “Come on down, canary yellow, canary yellow.” Feeling her sweater: “Is this cashmere? It’s soft.” Like a 10-year-old would say it. Drake says he’s been having problems with “these young girls” lately, needs someone who’s more on his page, maturity-wise. Not sure how Gina feels about this; Gina looks younger than representative for Grantland dot com, for example. Drake, singing to Gina: “You’re a good girl and you know it/You’re the only cashmere sweater I see.” Spoken: “Bring it in for a hug, Gina. Bring it in for some love, Gina.” Gina brings it in. Sung/spoken: “Gina, you kind of look like Martha Stewart tonight, but it’s all good.” To Gina’s back as she’s exiting: “Gina, those flowered pants are based. I would kill them shits if they came in men’s.” After Gina exits stage, to audience: “What Gina doesn’t know is, I would put this young thing in her life.” Removal of flowered pants is discussed, performance of “Worst Behavior” ensues. Entire moment skirts creepiness/Gina-mockery due entirely to Drake being dork — “It’s soft” does all that on its own.
Next passage of show = basically writ-very-large Gina moment. Circular catwalk descends from Staples ceiling, stopping 20 or so feet above center court. House lights up, even on nosebleed seats, as Drake raps “305 to My City.” Standard crowd-engagement tactics. But then: “305 to My City” beat loops at medium volume for a long, long time as Drake works crowd. Works entire crowd. “I see you, baby, with the jean jacket on … I see you right there in the white jeans and the green shirt,” etc., etc., as catwalk raises and lowers, permitting Drake to see people in box seats, cheap seats, floor seats. I see you. I see you. I see you. Despite talking fast, Drake cannot describe everyone’s outfit. Reserves “Y’all on a date tonight?” level of actual interaction for select few. Degree to which this stops people (with their brown dress on or their white shirt on) from entering absolute rubber-legged freakout mode when Drake seems to be acknowledging them: Zero percent. Whole scene is like (imaginary) Key & Peele sketch about OCD rapper forced to give entire packed arena individual shout-outs before continuing show; whole scene is also, in its relentless positivity/gratefulness/goofy impracticality, suggestive of what Staples Center–size Lil B show might be like. Grantland dot com representative has read descriptions of this portion of show; was not prepared for its power and simple sweetness. Drake: May at end of day just want to hug entire world? Wrap entire world in world-size cashmere throw? Imagining this impulse as future Drake motivation, representative from Grantland dot com is back on board with Drake. Come on down, canary yellow.