Drake review: A spectacular experience of pop craft and graft

Drake’s Boy Meets World tour arrives as the artist is at the peak of his powers, and the show lives up to the hype

Artist: Drake

Venue: 3Arena

Date Reviewed: February 19th, 2017

When Rolling Stone magazine visited Drake’s compound in California a few years ago, the Canadian star walked over to a control pad to press buttons that would reduce the flow of a waterfall covering the grotto in his swimming pool. The noise of the waterfall was a bit loud, and Drake was worried it would interfere with the journalist’s recording of the interview. It is this dynamic - how to be both considered and ludicrous - that is central to Drake’s artistic practice and persona.

His Boy Meets World tour lands at a time when Aubrey Drake Graham is at the peak of his powers. “I don’t even want them,” he said recently of the Grammys he’s won in the rap category, “I want to be like Michael Jackson. I want to be like artists that I looked up to. Those are pop songs, but I never get any credit for that.”

There are artists who plug into popular culture and there are artists who charge it. Drake does both. Like Beyonce, he expands the cultural lexicon both figuratively and literally, from his dance moves becoming memes to “YOLO” becoming an actual motto. His music can often feel sparsely gentle, ambient, minimal, downtempo, yet live it is transformed into pieces of work that are relentless in their energy and optimism. In a pop world where inspiration can sometimes be called out as appropriation, Drake, magpie-like, has subsumed many genres from house to dancehall into his creative palette, but the resulting brushstrokes are all his, shifting both the musical and lyrical landscapes of hip hop and pop.

Drake praises Dublin crowd

At the start of the show, sweeping spotlights chase a sprinting Drake like helicopter searchlights just trying to keep up with him. Started From the Bottom crashes in early with that line that perfectly sums up swagger and insecurity: “Just as a reminder to myself / I wear every single chain, even when I’m in the house.”

The most immediate stimulation is the design of the set; soft lines and bold lighting. A curved ramp hugs the width of the back of the stage, rising and falling blocks pop up and down sometimes with him on them, flames spurt up from below, fireworks fall from above, an ancillary round platform stage in the crowd sucks punters towards him, an incredible lighting rig made up of glowing orbs hangs, often jumping into action, cascading and flowing. Sometimes the spherical lights form a pyramid, sometimes they twist like a double helix, sometimes they spectacularly rise and fall like confetti defying gravity. At the centre of all of this is Drake’s absolute control over the tunes, the crowd, the arena. It is a masterclass.

And then there’s the music. There is so much of it that at one stage over half a dozen tunes are mashed together, reeled off like a Vegas blackjack dealer flipping cards. Dancers emerge out of nowhere for Work, his massive hit with Rihanna. Hold On, We’re Going Home unites the crowd - an awesome presence for the duration of the show - in a sea of hands that feels like the fans are their own united ecosystem. Drake’s biggest tunes can skirt the edge of cheesiness before swerving towards a more sophisticated destination, and here that’s encapsulated by Hotline Bling.

Throughout, Drake is ecstatic. Conducting Olé Olé chants, keeping a tricolour hanging from his pocket for most of the gig, addressing individual fans, calming people when things are getting a little heated, calling for unity and love in a divided world, joshing with his piano player, reminiscing about playing gigs in restaurants for $250 a night split between four people. In terms of delight in such showmanship he is perhaps most closely aligned with Bruce Springsteen, perfectly crafted between-song banter, and, as trite as it may sound, making everyone at the show feel a bit more special.

A massive inflatable installation arrives in the third act, a sphere that began as a piece about the death of the sun by Director X. It is a truly astonishing piece of stage design, and brings something to a pop show that you’ve never seen before. He stalks the circumference of the giant orb to bash out Energy, another musical highlight of the night. The pace never relents, the joy never evaporates, and the entire experience - and it is an experience - just shows what heights those twin pillars of Drake’s success, graft and craft, can reach when an artist of this magnitude sets about delivering an experience that inspires and encapsulates talent, charm, and pure, unapologetic, bold slickness.