It’s been almost five years since the last time Kendrick Lamar extensively performed in the UK. The last time he played Manchester, he was still touring ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,’ and was already on his way to superstardom off the back of that critically acclaimed breakthrough album. Since that time, he has elevated to a level few could have predicted. Two critically revered albums later, he’s returned to the UK to tour his latest and most successful project to date, ‘DAMN.’
After a typically mesmerising and eclectic opening set from James Blake, Kendrick arrives on stage accompanied by blazing pyrotechnics, opening with the frantically exhilarating ‘DNA’. The blistering pace continues with fan favourites ‘Element’ and ‘King Kunta’, both of which receive a rapturous reception. There’s just one questionable choice early on which is the performance of Kendrick’s verse from Rich the Kid’s ‘Freezer’, which, while not bad, isn’t high on the list of Lamar’s best or most well-known featured verses.
From this point onwards, there isn’t a single track that received anything less than an ecstatic response from the crowd. The excitement and energy reaches its pinnacle as the pounding siren of ‘XXX’ transitions into the even more manic ‘MAAD City’, causing the entire stadium to collectively lose their shit.
What separates Kendrick from his contemporaries is his eye for detail. While the pyrotechnics and lighting are impressively flamboyant, it’s the subtler moments that help deliver an emotionally charged performance. A lone dancer joins Lamar on stage for short but memorable moments, especially the captivating performance during the haunting instrumental of ‘Feel’.
These instances also give the middle section of the performance a darker atmosphere, with the repeated refrain “‘Ain’t nobody praying for me,” adding to the sense of Kendrick’s isolation. The idea of solitude is further intensified by his performance of ‘Lust’ and ‘Money Trees’ (both songs about temptation), bent at the knee from a beautifully lit cage on the second stage. Despite the inclusion of these additional elements, it never feels self-indulgent or detracts from the music itself.
The show began breathlessly and never relents throughout. The Compton MC is undeniably an energetic and electrifying presence, who manages to remain the most captivating part of the performance, no matter what else goes on around him. At his last Manchester performance he was the rising star, this time it feels like a victory lap. All hail King Kendrick.
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Words: Will Rosebury
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