AUBURN HILLS -- It's entirely possible Kanye West will set a new performance bar when his Saint Pablo Tour hits the road on August 25. But until then, his friend and occasional collaborator Drake is setting the standard with his Summer Sixteen show.
The Toronto rapper (and sometimes actor) played the first of two metro area shows Thursday night, July 28, at the Palace, delivering a late-running two-hour-and-15-minute spectacle that was visually dazzling and musically consistent -- which hasn't always been Drake's strongsuit. On Thursday, however, the seventh show of the tour was, by his declaration, the loudest and most interactive -- though we bet Drake tells that to all the girls and guys -- and certainly lived up to his epic ambitions.
The music -- all or part of a whopping nearly three dozen songs from Drake's four albums and several mixtapes -- held its own against the eye candy, but the visuals were next-level spectacular. What appeared to be a flat, wide-open stage backed by a curved HD video screen housed a cluster of hydraulic lifts and light panels that kept the look fluid and fresh throughout the duration of the show. There were liberal doses of pyrotechnics as well, but the best gimmick was a mass of moving, lighted globes that sprang into formation for "Hotline Bling" and cascaded above and around the arena like cellular protosomes -- especially arresting as Drake rode among them through the air during "Hold On, We're Going Home."
Accompanied by a DJ and a live drummer and porting three different all-black outfits -- and a shiny pair of patent leather shoes for the last third of the night -- Drake was assured and low-key cocky, keeping the braggadocio mild. He didn't miss a chance to drop a reference to Michigan and kept the chatter that has burdened some of his shows to a welcome minimum. "I'm not here to talk your ear off," Drake noted early in the show. "I'm gonna give you the best night and best party of your life here."
He certainly had the material to do that with. Though quite a few hits particularly from early in his career, didn't surface, the sold-out Palace crowd had plenty to sing and rap along to, from "Sweet Sixteen" itself through "Still Here," "Trophies," "Started From the Bottom," "Right Hand," "For Free," "Pop Style," "Controlla," Rihanna's "Work" and many more. Drake shoehorned more than a dozen others into an "I Got All The Hits Medley," and he vamped with Future on "Grammys," "Big Rings" and "Jumpman."
Future's set, in fact, was sandwiched inside of Drake's show, a break which let the headliner keep his edge from blunting and also made him look good in comparison as his dreadlocked Atlanta cohort, joined by four dancers, stomped through a ponderous, one-dimensional set that required its pumped-up volume and even more pyrotechnics than Drake used to keep things interesting. Nevertheless, it did allow Drake to come back strong and finish with a band, literally and figuratively -- even convincing the Palace crowd that he was doing them a solid by defying a non-existent curfew to finish with a blitz of "Hype," "Know Yourself," "Energy" and "Legend."
The latter, of course, proclaims Drake a legend "if I die." For now, however, he's very much alive, and his performance had the makings of legendary status -- in the, er, future if not now.
Drake returns for a show on Aug. 16 at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. Tickets are currently sold out but promoters say more may be made available soon. Visit olympiaentertainment.com for updates.
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