Never mind the old-school way arena-rock superstars such as Bruce Springsteen and U2 can make concert audiences feel a personal connection even in a big venue. Today’s arena rappers seem intent on bridging the gap with their crowds in a much more literal and tedious way.
Just as Jay Z did last weekend at Xcel Energy Center, Toronto rap star Drake ate up a good 15 minutes of his Target Center concert Sunday pointing out as many individual members of the crowd as possible. It’s one of the cheapest ways to get applause, though the fans who paid $50-$100 and didn’t get a mention might beg to differ.
“You in the [such-and-such] dress, I see you there,” he said over and over to the heavily female audience. As if to outdo Jay Z, Drake took this I Spy bit to new heights. His elaborate, high-tech stage production included a floating catwalk for him to get up and close even with fans in the cheap seats
In the case of Sunday’s concert, though — which drew a modest 7,000 or so fans — the arena’s upper deck was mostly empty. So was about half of Drake’s 100-minute set.
On his first major headlining trek — curiously named the “Would You Like a Tour?” — the 27-year-old Grammy-winning rapper seemed eager to make a big impression. He postponed Sunday’s show and many other tour dates in October to fine-tune the production, and it certainly did impress in the end. The sound system boomed with force, and the stage was titled like an open O, with the band inside and Drake operating in the round.
He also hit the ground running at show time, jumping around the stage like an aerobics instructor to the openers “Tuscan Leather” and “Headlines.” He worked the stage harder in 10 minutes time than Jay Z did in an entire two hours.
Drake’s songs, however, aren’t nearly as energetic as he is. Many of the sensitive, emotionally riddled tracks off his new album, “Nothing Was the Same,” sound cool on headphones but felt chilly in concert, including “Furthest Thing” and the coming-of-age ode “From Time,” in which he duetted with guest singer Jhene Aiko. He also brought out Atlanta rapper Future — the second of four opening acts — for their collaboration “Same Damn Time.” In other songs, though, he heavily relied on taped backing vocals in too robotic a fashion.
After a mid-show break — which was the only time his band played a factor — Drake serenaded a female audience member with “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and thickly laid on the ladies-man serenading with “305 to My City.”
Even though he went on before Drake, sashaying R&B horn-dog singer Miguel seemed to carry equal weight with the crowd. Most fans showed up in time for his 40-minute set, and as many men sang along to the mushy hit “Adorn” as women did in the raunchy ballad “[P-word] Is Mine.”
The 28-year-old, pompadour-headed smooth-dude from Los Angeles (full name: Miguel Pimentel) was as full of spark and dazzle — including numerous leg splits and high kicks despite ultratight pants — as he was full of sexed-up sizzle. The many comparisons to Prince certainly applied as he poured on the falsetto and writhed around the stage, sometimes in all too obvious and gimmicky a fashion.
Miguel’s lyrics and between-song banter, however, were way more R. Kelly macho-bravado. In “How Many Drinks,” for instance — and this is the most G-rated example — he asked, “How many drinks would it take you to leave with me? You look good and we came to party but I don’t wanna waste my time.”
When Miguel asked the men how many of them had gotten lucky to his music, he bragged, “I’m kind of like the autopilot wingman.”
Much of what he said to the female audience members is simply unprintable. But like Drake’s loooong I-see-you-there montage, they ate up the attention.