How old are you now, Aubrey Drake Graham, how old are you now?
Serenading the superstar emcee on his 27th birthday was a sold-out crowd at Air Canada Centre, led by the R&B singer Miguel. The Use Me loverman was the last of the night’s opening acts; he told the crowd that if they sang loud enough, Drake would be able to hear it backstage.
I doubt he heard it over all the dressing-room back-slapping and bottle-popping.
About 30 minutes later, after Miguel had left and after the change-over, the lights went down, the curtain was lifted and the Toronto-born-and-raised candle-blower elevated slowly on a riser built for one at the rear of the stage. He started from the bottom, and now he was here, don’t you know.
He surveyed his audience from atop the chromed multi-level stage before walking around a circular pit where his “band,” such as it was, was hidden. The stage was his alone as he offered a few lines from Tuscan Leather before settling into the opening number proper, Headlines. “The real is on the rise,” he proclaimed on the chorus. Backing tracks handled the smug, reassuring response: “They know, they know, they know.”
And we knew, we knew, we knew.
Supporting his new Nothing Was the Same LP, Drake calls his current North American jaunt “Would You Like a Tour?” It is his gift to us, but its condescending title has backfired. Can you give us a tour, one might ask of him – are you capable of that, man? The tour’s first 16 dates were rescheduled, due to an “intense rehearsal schedule and technical production requirements,” the press release had said. Nothing I saw at ACC was mad technical; the stage was bare, the occasional smoke and fireworks were nothing outlandish, and it’s not like there is a crew of musicians with which to rehearse. Technical production requirements? Good lord, Van Halen’s candy-bowl preparations are more demanding.
Was it the giant circular walkway in the sky? Was that the problem? Apparently it was in Philadelphia last weekend, when the concert was shut down shortly before it was supposed to begin, due to logistical problems. At ACC, Drake used the skywalk for one song and an insufferably long meet-and-greet session. “Whatch you think, I’m scared?” he asked, as he took to the suspended apparatus. “I do this [stuff] for a living.”
Once he attained suitable altitude, Drake fluffed the crowd and offered shout-outs. He praised the well-built fellow below him in the lower bowl: “Low calories,” surmised the rapper nicknamed Drizzy, no slouch in the physique department himself. He spotted and thanked a teacher who “helped me graduate high school,” and he mentioned his mother, too. What might she be thinking as she saw her millionaire son aloft, adored and cheered? “That’s my son,” she might have said to those around her, “he started from the bottom and now…” “We know, we know,” they might have responded, cutting her off, “we know.”
Whatever issues might have caused problems earlier in the tour seemed to have been ironed out in time for a celebrative, hometown love-in at ACC, where a high-energy run of truncated songs moved seamlessly. Connect, off Nothing Was the Same, connected, especially with the audience-baiting mentions of various Toronto off-ramps on the 401 highway – Mississauga, Morningside, Ajax or, as Drake suggested, he could just leave the car keys on the dresser and do it downtown.
If logistical problems have been ironed out, so have the personal issues. A spirited mini-set with the ruggedly-rapping artist Future included Tony Montana and Same Damn Time. It would seem that Drake’s feud with the Atlanta hit-maker had been settled. (Commenting on Nothing Was the Same, Future told Billboard magazine that Drake had made an album that was “full of hits” but that it “doesn't grab you.” Reading that, Drake fired Future as one of tour’s opening acts. Clearly he was rehired, because there they were on stage, at the same damn time.)
During the penultimate All Me, Drake dispelled his morose millionaire persona. He has everything he needs, we were assured, and more money than he could count. For those who forgot to bring gifts, this was Drizzy’s way of letting them know that it wasn’t a problem.
So, good manners; Drake was brought up well. He finished with his hypnotic, autobiographical hit Started From the Bottom. Did his fans know the story and the words? You know, you know, you know they did.