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How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Drake (at Spark Arena)

Henry Oliver reviews Drake’s show at Spark Arena on Friday 3 November 2017.

Drake and I have always had an ambivalent (one-way) relationship. When he appeared, seemingly out of nowhere but actually with a few years worth of unremarkable mixtapes, the Canadian actor-turned-rapper was part of a wave of post-808s and Heartbreak rappers making sing-songy, emotional rap which made a point of exploring the emotional shortcomings and relationship difficulties of its author.

In many ways, Drake is the pop star of our times. He consistently dominates the charts, not necessarily with the highest sales – no-one can touch Adele in that respect – but in ubiquity. On 13 February 2009, Drake’s first single, ‘Best I Ever Had’ debuted at 92 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in for the next 431 weeks until 26 August 2017, there was always a Drake song on the chart (by far the longest streak in history). I guess that’s one aspect of my ambivalence. You never get a chance to miss the guy. He’s everywhere, all the time. If he’s not releasing an album, there’s a mixtape, or a ‘playlist’, or a single, or a remix of a hot new song that he’s vampirically just stuck a verse on to suck up the blood of the young.

But it’s not just that he’s everywhere, it’s that he can also just be kind of annoying. When you release so many songs in such a short space of time, you can be forgiven for repeating yourself a bit, but, after listening to a lot of Drake leading up to his show at Spark arena last Friday, I was struck at how often he frames himself as a victim of his wealth or his, um, romantic opportunities. He’s so tired of people asking him for money, so tired of women throwing themselves at him. Sure, both of these things might be true but come on man, we get it.

PHOTO: HENRY OLIVER

But you just can’t hate Drake. He’s too good. His songs are too catchy, too fun. He and his team are too good at reading the winds and getting where things are going right on time – not ‘ahead of his time’, that would risk compromising his popularity, but also never late too. Plus, he makes so much music that you don’t need to get sick of any of it. There’s always something new around the corner. All of which was running through my mind in the lead-up to his return to Auckland on Friday night. Which Drake was I going to see? Chart-topping pop Drake? Mixtape club hits Drake? Emo Drake?

Thankfully, we got all of the above Drake. From the opening of the show, when he came on, dancing and passionately singing along (not into a microphone) to the opening to More Life’s ‘Free Smoke’, Drake was energetic and magnetic. He strode up and down the long stage in the middle of the arena, suitably dressed for his 20 metre sprints in what I assume are very expensive warm-up pants, unaccompanied by any band or visible DJ (two dancers briefly appeared a couple of times and did a dance-off in a section about two-thirds through). It was the stadium version of a rapper pressing play on his laptop and singing along, but really, he didn’t need anyone else. For the most part, the songs just rolled into one another, sounding as they do on the album, but perfectly abridged (some of these songs could have been shorter on the albums, to be honest) for maximum impact.

He played a bunch of songs of his lively ‘playlist’ More Life, and fewer songs of his less-lively Views and nothing but the hits from his earlier work (in this context, ‘earlier’ meaning all the way back in 2010), including a mini-medley of some of his songs with Rihanna (including Rihanna songs) and one of some of the songs he’s jumped on (Fetty Wap’s ‘My Way’, Gucci Mane’s ‘Both’ and DJ Khaled’s ‘For Free’).

PHOTO: HENRY OLIVER

The simple stage show, just Drake running around with a wireless mic with maybe a couple of costume changes (different track pants), and straight-up musical presentation  – it may have been pre-programmed with someone sitting waiting to press pause every once in awhile – were balanced with an amazing technical light show. Hundreds of small globes were suspended from the ceiling, changing colours, reflecting laser beams and moving in unison, often at random or in waves. Sometimes just acting as a false, lower ceiling to elevate the intimacy, only to fly back into the rafters, opening up the arena. Oh, and near the end, a bigger, stage-bound globe inflated and became some sort of trippy marble planet. 

All of which looked amazing, but none of which distracted from Drake. It was his show and his alone, and more than just singing his songs well and jumping up and down enthusiastically, he sold the shit out of his music. When you see him sing it, you believe it. You believe that he loves what he does and he makes the crowd feel like he wanted to be there more than anywhere else. It was the first show of the tour and when he said he’d been counting down the days till he could perform again, his smile convinces you of his sincerity. He probably says that every night, but every night, I imagine, people are convinced. He’s like a stand-up comedian or a politician. Everything he says sounds like he’s saying it for the first time. If people could vote for Drake, they would. As much as Drake’s music, people love Drake. And after years of ambivalence, maybe I do too.

PHOTO: HENRY OLIVER


Drake performed at Spark Arena 3 and 4 November 2017. The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.

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