Manchester Arena Touring to Apr 11
On a cold, wet Sunday night, there’s a sizzle in the Manchester air. A superstar has come to town: Drake, the Canadian singer-rapper who may be the world’s most popular pop star.
His secret lies in being all things to all fans – both hip-hop and R ’n’ B, both black (on his father’s side) and white (on his mother’s), shouty and softly spoken, masculine and feminine, hubristic and humble.
His sound is minimal, yet his output is quite the opposite. At 32, Aubrey Drake Graham has already released 131 singles, 75 of them as lead artist. Most are deservedly forgotten, but lately Drake and his co-writers have been coming up with proper hits like In My Feelings, God’s Plan and One Dance, which is music’s answer to Brexit – it arrived in 2016 and may never go away.
Drake’s sound is minimal, yet his output is quite the opposite. His trump cards are his energetic presence and a superb set. If visuals were everything, the show would get five stars
His fans, mainly women in their 20s, are dressed up to the nines. This is the sort of occasion at which you feel left out if you’re not wearing PVC hotpants. Drake himself has come as a riot policeman, albeit one with a weakness for Louis Vuitton.
His trump cards are his energetic presence and a superb set. The stage, a bare white rectangle plonked in the middle of the arena floor, can turn into almost anything: the sea, a swimming pool, a basketball court (marked out, in a lovely touch, by lasers), a watch, a lyric sheet or a giant iPhone.
In case this isn’t enough, there are also six dancers, endless special effects and even a flying car – Drake’s own Ferrari, which clearly fancies itself as Chitty Chitty Hip-Hop.
If visuals were everything, the show would get five stars. But there is a problem: the music.
IT’S A FACT
Drake’s father Dennis played drums for rocker Jerry Lee Lewis. He later also backed Al Green, Isaac Hayes and Willie Nelson.
I can make out only two musicians, a keyboard player and a drummer, tucked away in the shadows like technicians. One of them has plenty to do, while the other is mostly twiddling his drums.
Much of the sound appears to be pre-recorded. When Drake tilts the microphone towards the crowd to get a singalong going, the top line disappears but his own backing vocals carry on, which is amateurish and alienating.
The set list seems to be trying to sum up his career, starting with a series of duds and then suddenly improving. As some mediocre hip-hop gives way to the sinuous soul of Hotline Bling and Fake Love, Drake’s voice softens, the fans dance and the arena fills with something better than fireworks: sheer joy.
M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool Touring to Sat
For some younger acts, stardom is a video game and they just keep going to the next level. When I saw George Ezra in October, he was still playing the clubs. Now he’s in the arenas, with a Brit award in his back pocket.
At this rate he’ll soon be headlining Wembley Stadium.
A venue called the M&S Bank Arena wouldn’t suit every pop star, but Ezra is middle-class and not ashamed of it. His fans are a broad church, ranging from young women treating their mums, to small boys with George Ezra haircuts that make them look like old photos of their grandfathers.
A venue called the M&S Bank Arena wouldn’t suit every pop star, but Ezra is middle-class and not ashamed of it. His set is vintage: a horn gramophone and three elderly standard lamps
Songs such as Shotgun are a throwback, too, to the days when a hit was there to be hummed by anyone and everyone. Ezra’s set design is vintage: a horn gramophone and three elderly standard lamps.
His wardrobe – black, but not trying-to-be-cool black – is borrowed from Johnny Cash.
The lyrics are half postcards from his travels and half reflections on anxiety, which Ezra struggles with as much as the next millennial. But the music is pure sunshine, and we need a bit of that.
On stage, these sturdy tunes have an extra glow, thanks to an exuberant horn section and the contrast between Ezra’s bass-baritone and an airy choir of several thousand Scouse women.
Without changing his style, his set list or even his patter, he has mastered another level.
THIS WEEK’S CD RELEASES
By Adam Woods
Sleeper The Modern Age Out Fri
Having taken up a festival reunion offer in 2017, frontwoman Louise Wener reassembles her Sleeperblokes – as the music press called them – for another full round of throaty ennui and bounce-along guitars. Late highlights Car Into The Sea and Big Black Sun prove they know what they’re doing
Robert Forster Inferno Out now
Robert Forster has had three fine solo records since the death of Grant McLennan, his partner in The Go-Betweens. This features Forster’s wistful, routinely excellent bohemian songcraft. The instantly familiar No Fame and elegant closer One Bird In The Sky sound like Go-Betweens classics