Drake may be the greatest rapper alive. And now we might want to crown him the hardest working man in showbiz, too. On the New York stop of his “Would You Like a Tour?” at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last night (Oct. 28), the Toronto rapper emerged in workout-appropriate sneakers and a baby blue outfit that could’ve been a high-end take on the classic Canadian tuxedo, issued a formal introduction (“I go by the name of Aubrey Drake Graham”) and proceeded to pull out every last stop in romancing “one of the best audiences I have ever played for in my life.”
About three quarters of the way through the show, that included mounting a huge circular platform that dropped down from the ceiling and allowed him to call out section numbers in the nosebleeds, note women’s features that he liked (long legs, red hair) and chat up individuals in the crowd: “Hey, I see you in that Commes des Garçon hoodie … You! You’re clapping like you at a Miley Cyrus show …” If that soon seemed like a Borscht Belt routine (and it especially did when he described two men wearing suits as “Bernstein and Feldman over here”), the larger effort drew from the long tradition of soulmen wooing females from the stage.
Except Drake cultivated everybody. Equally confident rapping and singing, he balanced displays of prowess with simple prettiness – drawing heavily from the recently released Nothing Was the Same, in addition to an array of older hits and some cultier fare like his verse from “Versace” by Migos. (He also previewed a new song, “Trophies,” which seems to include the line, “I do not want to be Franco,” maybe as a reminder that music remains his singular passion.)
The stage itself elegantly represented the well-struck balance of intimacy and spectacle: Wide open, with a circular central ramp canted down toward the audience and enclosing the DJ and live musicians, the setup allowed Drake’s lone figure to puff out into seemingly limitless space. It also accommodated the locals he said he’d invited to help celebrate his birthday, which was last week: Busta Rhymes (who did a manic bit of “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”), A$AP Ferg, A$AP Rocky (who he called “iconic”) and the entire A$AP Crew, who excitedly flooded onto the stage as if to remind us of how adrenaline-inducing looking out at an arena crowd must feel.
Drake also brought out Jhene Aiko to sing her part from Nothing’s lovely “From Time,” and provide an otherworldly presence in her long sheer skirt. Although he broke the spell somewhat by pointing out mid-song that he was rapping about “having sex more than one time,” and by letting her stand behind him as he sat on some steps.
He pulled off another bro move more suavely, having a woman from the audience brought on stage to dance somewhat dirtily with him during “Hold On We’re Going Home”—a corny concert staple he delivered winkingly but with some genuine frisson. The crowd, in any case, was with him all the way, even when he wasn’t reading the names off their jerseys and commenting on their dye jobs. Drake’s gratitude was just gravy.
Miguel, who opened the show along with Future and PARTYNEXTDOOR, drove a harder bargain with the audience: In exchange for recasting his wily R&B as raunchy hard rock, he expected the arena’s full attention—and it mostly worked. (Sadly, I missed the exciting, less easily categorized Future.) You couldn’t call Miguel’s pivot from “Ladies: is that pussy mine?” to, “The truth is, I think everyone woman is beautiful” seamless. But the noisy guitar and drums couldn’t obscure his own sense of inward beauty, either. A–