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Review: Drake works Tampa fans hard in magnetic concert at Amalie Arena



From the moment Drake emerged in a Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning jersey, sparks blasting behind his back, he had them.

He could’ve sleepwalked the rest of the night, and the vibe on the floor of Amalie Arena never would’ve dipped below 100. He could’ve plopped into a comfy sofa and read lines from Degrassi, and not a dancing, screaming soul would’ve cared.

From the jump, all 16,078 bodies were in motion, every torso tilting and tipping with a drink in one hand, phone in the other, as the world’s most popular rapper flexed his unstoppable pop-chart muscle.

Does it matter that, in the studio, Drake can come off as a little too emo, a little too sad-sack, a little low-motor? Not in a crowd this lit, where even a single note from a single Drake song – to say nothing of two straight hours of them – is enough to start a near riot.

But just in case they didn’t see the Stamkos jersey, Drizzy, kind Canadian that he is, never stopped buttering their their bread, over and over and over again.

“It’s Saturday night in Tampa,” he said. "It's summertime. You should be drunk right now.”

Oh, yes, Drake worked 'em. He worked 'em hard, begging them to help him win an almost-certainly-nonexistent bet that Tampa would be the hypest, livest city on the tour; and then promising them all night that they were. He squeezed Tampa into his lyrics every chance he got (“I feel like Tampa adopted me!” “I’m in Tampa Bay with my woes!”). He read fans’ signs (“I like that sign: you won’t fight with me at Cheesecake”). And at the end of the night, he profusely thanked almost every section of the arena, even specific fans in every row he could see.

And, more than anything, he performed with an urgency, a palpable heat that too often feels missing from his albums. He couldn’t help but project his actorly air from the stage, pushing his charisma out into the crowd, meme-dancing and finger-wagging, never letting the crowd do the heavy lifting even when it was obvious they would have.

“Oh boy, we got one of those special crowds that’s going way, way, way up tonight,” he said during HYFR. “You want the short show or the long show?” (Hold that thought.)

The reaction was crazed to his early bangers (Summer Sixteen, Still Here, Started From the Bottom); a little more swoony for those half-sung lady-pleasers (Faithful, With You). As a pure rapper, he saved some of his lyrical best for last – the devastating Meek Mill dis track Back to Back, the introspective Hype and Know Yourself – though a furious mid-set hits medley (We Made It, All Me, I’m On One, Versace) went over like gangbusters. And through it all, he blasted off more pyro than bands like Slipknot or Kiss, from geysers of flame to a mini-fireworks show at the end.

Meanwhile, as all this was unfolding on a stage packed with enormous video screens and rising LED pedestals, a grid of hundreds of orbs hung patiently overhead. When Drake finally got to Hotline Bling, they all lit up in neon magenta, rising and falling in unison above fans’ heads. For Hold On, We’re Going Home, Drake hopped in a little gondola dangling from the ceiling and floated overhead as the balls, now glowing blue, undulated and pulsed all around him. For the rest of the night, the orbs glowed and breathed overhead in spectacular, fantabulous fashion; it was one of the coolest, most mesmerizing concert effects I’ve ever seen.

Underscoring Drake’s stage chops were those of his ostensible co-headliner Future, who’s had a big year of his own (from Tampa, he’s off to perform at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards).

Arriving midway through Drake’s set for Grammys, the Atlanta trap titan followed the 6 God’s stylistic lead, donning a personalized Lightning jersey for the duration of his own 40-minute set. (His DJ, DJ Esco, wore a Jameis Winston Bucs jersey.)

The home cookin’ might’ve helped fans overlook the fact that unlike Drake, Future didn’t exactly own the mic. Far too often, he let his backing track dominate his own booming croak while he busied himself with working the crowd left and right.

Did anyone mind? Doubt it, since each song he dropped nonetheless destroyed, from the front rows to the rafters. Such is the sheer, tangible force of songs like Blasé, Bugatti, F--- Up Some Commas, Low Life and Wicked – simply hearing them obliterate Amalie’s sound system was enough of a thrill.

Future seemed reenergized when Drake came back out for Big Rings and Jumpman (side note: only three collaborations on the night for a duo that did an entire mixtape together? A weird missed opportunity). But the rest of the night belonged to Drizzy, who switched to quasi-Caribbean club mode and promptly dropped hit (Work) after hit (Too Good) after hit (Controlla) after hit (One Dance).

That last one, 2016’s top contender for the Song of the Summer, saw orange lights ripple through those glowing overhead orbs, flames shooting through the stage amid Drake and his dancers. It ended at 11:20 p.m. – about 10 minutes shy of Drake’s expected curfew.

And that’s when he started buttering Tampa up once again.

“I gotta make a decision,” he said. “Do I listen to the people who just called downstairs and said, ‘Drake has been onstage too long; you gotta get offstage’? Or do we just agree that we’re having the time of our lives and we really don’t give a f---?

“I love Tampa too much, and I feel like Tampa’s shown too much love tonight for me to give a f--- about what this is going to cost.”

Does the world’s most popular rapper need to do any of this to have fans eating out of the palm of his hand? Maybe a better question is: Is crowd-pleasing behavior like this the reason Drake became the world’s most popular rapper in the first place?

Don’t bother asking his fans in Tampa. They're too busy letting Drake give them the time of their lives to answer.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Sunday, August 28, 2016 3:56pm]


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