Gig review: Drake at First Direct Arena, Leeds
'I just wanna let you know my name is Drake,' proclaims the man born Aubrey Graham, to screams and general delirium. 'And I'm with the most turned up people I could be with right now!'
The Toronto-born hip-hop superstar himself is initially less turned up than most – arriving half-an-hour later than his scheduled start time at Leeds’s First Direct Arena. But throughout an eighty-five-minute romp of hits and hooks, his casual brilliance as a stage performer outweigh his musical foibles to compensate more than enough.
Arriving on stage to the soaring Trophies, Drake proceeds to rattle through nearly thirty songs with a deft theatricality, bouncing between the ominous one-note-synth of 0 to 000 and rumbling arena rock of Keep the Family Close with nary a breath to spare. This approach doesn’t always pay off however; tracks are diced up, teased out and then discarded for the next number abrasively. Backed by minimal live music, Drake’s show can often feel like a Spotify playlist on shuffle; but then, that’s how his fans want it, judging by their exultation as he deploys snippets of Blessings, Versace and Up All Night in a tight, slick megamix.
When he does allow songs to breathe though, they come alive in his hands. Able to work a crowd to perfection, he dedicates the languorous, neo-R&B jam Feels No Ways “for the girls of Leeds” and leads a mass singalong to the glacial stadium pop of Hold On, We’re Coming Home. It’s an impressive connection, and he reaffirms it repeatedly throughout proceedings. “Yorkshire, can you take any more?” he cries before downing a shot prior to The Motto. “That’s how we do it in Leeds, baby!” His sentiments feel authentic; no small feat in a 13,000-plus arena.
The production values of this latest jaunt are eye-catchingly impressive too, with a minefield of photogenic globes hung from the rafters that give the impression his design team ram-raided IKEA. They ripple, glowing pink, for viral hit Hotline Bling; later, accompanied by midriff-baring dancers, they take on a sunset-orange hue for Rihanna collaborations Work and Too Good.
But it’s Drake to whom attention always returns, commanding in his presence. From the tropical One Dance to the muted piano of Energy, the final stretch is an affirmation of his pop dominance. “I’m just getting started!” he bellows during closer Legend; a wry ending, given he’s still busy writing his own story.