Wembley SSE – 20th February
“That’s the first time we’ve run that back twice,” Kendrick announces as he surveys the crowd after they’ve not once but twice sung every word of the last verse of Humble back at him, a capella. “Sit down, be humble” they chant, as he stomps a beat out on the floor. Of course, no one is sat down, everyone is on their feet.
Lamar looks out at the crowd smiling, savouring the moment. As the beat for Humble kicks in for a third time and he takes on the rap himself,you get the feeling that he realises that, right now, he’s in a moment. In fact, he feels almost untouchable.
This is the greatest rapper in the world (trademark every single music journalist), throwing out banger after banger and putting on the one of the most breathtaking, pulsating gigs of the year. Tonight’s show barely pauses for breath, one track after another seemingly segueing into the next. It’s a performance that manages that rare trick of being both understated and breathtaking, huge but intricate and thought out, and all on his own terms – it’s a trick that only an artist like Lamar can pull off.
That Lamar’s sonic world is an introspective one, built on ebbs and flows, and full of intricate details (how many other rappers have put out an album that plays out in reverse as a full story just as well as it does the right way round?) meant you felt like his music might get lost in a huge arena like this one. But he had the answer – make the venue work for him. So for an hour and a half the focus is entirely on him and his dazzling lyrical talent (his skilful band relegated to the side of the stage, as they weave pounding drum fills and funk around the beats and samples).
There’s a sense of fun too – goofy-cum-arty VHS kung fu films flicker behind him constantly (including a fake epic called Kung Fu Kenny Practises His Motherfuckin’ Skills) and the show begins with a video showing Lamar’s alter-ego Kung Fu Kenny training with a zen master before he takes to the stage. A samurai elegantly stalks the stage beside him doing interpretative dance and the murky beats of DNA start an exhilarating opening burst of songs which fizz with electric energy, culminating with a pulsating King Kunta and a rapid fire blast of “untitled 07” (aka “Levitate”) and Schoolboy Q’s track “Collard Greens”.
“Swimming Pools (Drank)” is, according to Lamar, the first “test” of the night of the crowd’s stan credentials but this is an audience whose adulation barely need to be questioned. They are delirious throughout as fire shoots from the back of the stage and martial artists weave around him. Then, half way through the show, Wembley is plunged into darkness before he emerges in the middle of the arena on top of a fairy-lit hydraulic cage in the middle of an arena to perform ‘Lust’ and ‘Money Trees’.
Later iPhone lights are held up, flickering to illuminate the arena as Lamar orchestrates them asking them to wave them from side to side. There are later chants of ‘Ohhh Kendrick Lamar’, which is welcome even if it doesn’t scan.
At one point Lamar sings while appearing to hover horizontally in front of us, levitating. For his next trick you suspect he may walk on water. Defying gravity. Defying cliches. At the moment it feels like he can do anything.