Looking like an ant from our balcony seats at Leeds O2 Academy, one of Clash’s recent Next Wave selections, Joel Compass, is the first live act to open J. Cole’s What Dreams May Come tour. Despite a hinted lack of live experience (not even noticing that there were people sat above him, for example) and falling victim to the venues bad sound quality, he and his live band still managed to captivate the audience with tracks like recent singles ‘F*cked Up’ and ‘Run’, suggesting a lot of potential for future shows.
When DreamVille signee Bas takes to the stage, the Jamaica, Queens rapper demonstrates a natural confidence and strong stage presence. Without requiring the assistance of some annoying industry standard back-up rapper, Bas performs a few cuts from his slept-on ‘Quarter Water Raised Me II’ mixtape, before being joined by a fellow DreamVillain, Chicago’s Omen, who performs a couple of tracks of his own, making the night a real showcase of the talent that is being nurtured via Cole’s label.
When J. Cole takes to the stage it is immediately obvious how far he has come as a performer, and how his production values have increased for this tour. With the backing of a full live band, DJ and two backing singers (complete with slightly off dance routines,) his opener ‘Trouble’ is goosebump-inducing.
Cole does a good job in balancing old fan-favourites with his new material, at one point offering attendees the chance to choose their favourite album or mixtape cuts, which results in a medley including ‘Let Nas Down’, ‘Lost Ones’ and ‘In The Morning’, having already covered career highlights such as ‘Rich N*ggaz’, ‘Forbidden Fruit’, ‘Lights Please’ and ‘Blow Up’.
Despite having let Nas down by releasing ‘Work Out’, so much so that he made a song about it, it isn’t enough to cut the radio-single out of his live set. Cole even prefaces it with a Drake-like soliloquy chronicling his recent relationship with Hennessy and his hopes to find a woman – who may just be here in Leeds tonight.
Bas makes a second appearance ‘interrupting’ his mentor’s set in search for a lighter. This escalates into some rehearsed banter that sees the audience siding with him over Cole, before the pair break out into recent collaboration ‘Lit’ – cleverly cementing the up-and-comer as an ally to the audience who will hopefully investigate his music further once they get home to their computers.
On hearing the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing, Cole pauses the show to say a few words on him, dedicating his uplifting TLC-featured single ‘Crooked Smile’ to the South African revolutionary. This is followed by the show closer ‘Power Trip’, the initial ‘Born Sinner’ single, which really demonstrates its strength in a live setting, Miguel’s falsetto bridge assisted by some crowd-participation and filled in by the live band.
Cole is well aware that this is what a lot of the punters are here for, having even joked earlier that “If you don’t know this stuff, now is a good time for a toilet break. We’ll be doing ‘Power Trip’ in a few minutes.” And he certainly doesn’t falter under the pressure, providing a perfect and no-nonsense end to a great show, leaving the stage afterwards without requiring the charade of an encore.
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Words: Grant Brydon (@GrantBrydon)