Concert Review: Drake brings ‘Paradise’ to the Comcast Center

Swag.

Nightclub scuffles aside, there is no trouble in Drake’s paradise.

On the last stop of his “Club Paradise” tour Sunday night at the Comcast Center, the hip-hop hitmaker and Lil Wayne protege ushered fans through his potent roster of hits and reminded us why he’s among the brightest stars in commercial hip-hop.

Drake made headlines for a reported dust-up with pop/r&b sensation Chris Brown at a New York nightclub last week. Apparently, entourages clashed, bottles flew and injuries were sustained. But he made no allusion to the conflict on Sunday night, and if he had, it would have been a distraction from more important matters. Like the music.

A mere five minutes into his set, the Toronto native had already eclipsed the entire three hours that led up to it, as Drake-in-hoodie appeared from the darkness, took his perch in front of a giant screen full of faces and lit into the opening notes of gospel-laced “Lord Knows.”

It was an epic moment partly fueled by the suspense of sitting through a parade of tedious opening acts, and the momentum only swelled with “Underground Kings,” “I’m On One” and “Over” as Drake welcomed fans to the “greatest club in the (expletive) world.”

He wasn’t really exaggerating. During his 90-minute set, Drake operated in front of a live band and a grid of screens that alternately flashed women, Young Money mentor Lil Wayne and colors that suited each song’s mood, and he worked without vocal backing tracks, delivering crisp rhymes and sincere crooning.

Throughout, he seemed like a giddy teenager enjoying his first taste of fame, not a (relatively) seasoned superstar who’s been there and done that. He spent much of the night bouncing side-to-side like a boxer in training, or sprinting and spinning across the stage like an overcaffeinated hype man. Good thing there were no actual hype men or backup dancers, because they would have gotten in the way.

When openers Meek Mill, Waka Flocka Flame and 2 Chainz returned for brief stints during Drake’s set, Drizzy seemed like more of a smitten fan than the big shot who put them on his tour.

The packed Comcast Center crowd – most of them teens and 20-somethings in skimpy outfits and fitted caps, though a few grandmothers were spotted –typically responded in a frenzy, rapping the words to all of Drake’s hits, and singing along to “Marvins Room,” the drunk dialing saga off his sophomore album, “Take Care.”

Inevitably, when Drake stripped down from a hoodie to a tank top on “Up All Night” there were screams. When he briefly lifted up said tank top to wipe sweat from his face after “Take Care,” there was mania. But Aubrey Drake Graham didn’t indulge in fans’ desires to see his abs, and while he naturally oozes charisma and embraces his sex appeal, he doesn’t rely on it.

The 25-year-old’s greatest strength is his vulnerability – the willingness to lay his thoughts and emotions bare in a genre overrun by generic thugs. Alternately boastful and introspective, Drake spent half his time toasting champagne to his victories and the remainder analyzing the personal losses those public victories have caused him. Both were supremely enjoyable.

As the set wound down, Drake took a page out of Jay-Z’s book and shouted out fans in the audience for upwards of 10 minutes. Perhaps that time could have been better spent on any of the many hits he didn’t have time to tackle on Sunday. But all was forgiven with a closing barrage that included “Proud of You,” “HYFR,” “The Motto” and “Headlines.”

The only drawback to Drake’s version of paradise is that it comes with about three too many opening acts, most of them a paradigm for what’s gone wrong in mainstream rap.

Newcomer Jitta on the Track, who appeared to be a last-minute fill-in for French Montana, talked about getting drunk for roughly nine of his 10 minutes onstage.

Meek Mill, the Philly rapper who landed a coveted spot on Rick Ross’ Maybach Music roster, apparently hasn’t soaked up the boss man’s sway and swagger, as the laid back emcee seemed a tad out of his element onstage and rapped over vocal tracks that were louder than his live ones.

Atlanta upstart 2 Chainz was, in fact, wearing two chains, along with roughly seven bracelets. While his rhymes tended toward the simplistic and repetitive nursery rap variety, there were bright spots on tracks like the oddly alluring minstrelsy of “Spend It” and his verse from Kanye West’s “Mercy.”

Likewise, Waka Flocka Flame won’t be winning lyricism awards anytime soon, but he certainly burned his daily caloric intake during a set that found him storming through the audience, pumping his fists and occasionally rapping in between screams from his hype man on “Fist Pump,” “Hard in Da Paint” and “No Hands.”

Jay-Z protégé J. Cole brought a live band and a classy vibe on songs like “Can’t Get Enough,” “Work Out” and “Nobody’s Perfect.” His performance was technically impressive, and the piano-laden, loungy interludes were a welcome break from the bass and chaos, but ultimately, Cole’s material felt like little more than sophisticated clichés, and his set failed to inspire. While Drake leaves it all onstage, Cole leaves fans wondering who he really is.

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