Impossibly disarming
Drake - Live At The MEN Arena, Manchester

There’s an unease to Drake as he walks on stage. All in black his ill-fitting shirt, scruffy jeans and boots mean that he isn’t half as dolled up as the audience. He may throw his arms about, punch the sky, and postulate physically but there’s something soft in his stature. For many of his peers - counting Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Rihanna amongst them - attempting to navigate the arena in such a laconic manner wouldn’t be befitting, but with Drake it mirrors his pillowy persona, and more importantly his lyrics. This apparent discomfort reflects him as an artist trying to map out a career on his own terms, “Do it for the realist nigga in the fucking game right now,” he asks of the audience, affirming this point lyrically.

But “real” in this case doesn’t denote his credentials as an entrepreneur, nor a player, nor a gangster. To Drake, “real” means humble and sincere. Despite emulating the hubris of hip hop, alluding to a caricature only slightly tougher than his fauxgish Dizznee perm would suggest, Drake is still left with an image, by and large, unique. He may not be the fastest rapper in the game, nor even a brilliant singer, but in presenting himself loaded with imperfections Drake is impossibly disarming. “Sweat pants, hair tied, chillin’ with no make up on,” he sings. It’s this subversion of the form that makes him great, even if his audience is slow to catch on sartorially.

Chords will ring through the venue - glowing, shifting, revealing new sounds as they draw out. Their richness creates goosebumps as a pair of synths and a turntable equip the songs with a startling vibrancy. Such woozy, haunting electronics are brought to life through brilliant production values, and snappy pot whacking. With so many hands on decks it’s difficult to draw out a simple narrative, but collectively they point to the fact that Drake is working with the best around, including: DJ Khaled, Future Tha Prince, 40, Doc McKinnery, and Illangelo. A cabinet of tranquillisers; each relaxing
another muscle, stopping the crowd dead in their tracks.

Unfortunately the thin Jamie xx produced, ‘Take Care’, exposes the Mercury Prize winner as low-rent and faddish. Whether it’s the four-to-the-floor opening or the boorish exotica of the bongos that occupy the midpoint, the style is affected. Equally on ‘Marvin’s Room’, where Drake is dwarfed by the audience in both tone and volume, gaping holes are left in terms of performance.

The show closes not with a bang but with a, “Thank you.” Following an extended stint from Drake whereby he acknowledges an exhaustive proportion of the audience individually - describing their clothes, tattoos, bottoms, etc. - there’s a play off between gratitude and comedy. Standing on a raised stage section, all lights on him, he thanks friends, family and the audience (again!) for getting him to where he is today. The bathos of which carries a sincerity that would have been lost on an audience less sated.

Words by Samuel Breen
Photo by Duncan Elliott

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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