PARK CITY — Aziz Ansari had a public service announcement: “The RAPPER is LATE.”
The comedian and “Parks & Recreation” star was already bleeding sarcasm as he took the stage at Bing Bar last night (Jan 21), the opening act to rapper/singer Drake who was — in fact — an hour-and-a-half late for his set. On a Saturday night, at an open bar for one of the most in-demand MCs during one of the peak nights for Sundance crashers at a private party, Ansari’s stand-up was met with a smilingly agitated crowd.
Ansari dotted his bits about childhood and childbearing with “this sucks” and “at least I’m getting paid lots and lots of money.” It was Cuba Gooding, Jr. who crashed Ansari’s party, but only to unsuccessfully persuade the crowd to shut the hell up and respect the pre-Drizzy entertainment.
There was no stopping them. The Bing-sponsored performance was one of the extremely rare dates leading up to Drake’s proper tour behind “Take Care” live dates — dubbed the Club Paradise Tour. Last night was a preview of what to expect for this highly anticipated stint, featuring openers and Hip-Hop New Class members A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar.
Drake took the stage, finally, at 1 a.m. on the dot.
And this is where I pause for my own public service announcement. As I indicated in my review of “Take Care” last year, I am a hater. I am not a Drake believer. I fear his best material is generated from the fact that he’s a semi-permanent coattail-dweller, riding the pulses of Young Money’s success and the glut of guest stars on his albums, with those contributions often overriding his unearned own.
He also happens to be one of the best-looking rappers on the planet, a merit outside of raw talent, but one he’s free to push nonetheless. Forget that mellow, brow-beaten sad king bullhonk from the cover of “Take Care”: Drake really does have a big beautiful smile, with a mouth full of lovely teeth, and he used that weapon frequently to try and knock out the intimate crowd.
The abridged set lasted 35 minutes, with tracks culled mostly from “Take Care.” This being my first Drake live performance here are a few things I learned from the front row:
1) Drake opens up with buying you a shot. The rapper has a loving history with a particular vodka brand, and a silver tray was already prepared with shots of the stuff for him to personally waiter to the fans closest to him.
2) No, he doesn’t just live in sweaters. Despite the blowing snow on the streets and his knit-loving reputation, he opted for a plain black Polo t-shirt. The typically tailored MC was also sporting Timberland boots with some sag in his pants — as opposed to some fitted jeans, his jewelry the only standoutish elements of his outfits. He wore more bracelets than necklaces, with one of his shinies being a thin, black-jeweled bangle that surprised me with its femininity. But he wears it well.
3) A transition to his emo hit “Marvin’s Room” in concert will be very difficult. For all the coal in my cold black heart, the Toronto native kept the set energy up up up, with party jams and well-known mid-tempo spots like his track with “big brother” Lil Wayne on “She Will.”
4) Do not ask for the old sh*t. Drizzy made the mistake of asking a hottie superfan for her request, and she named two pre-“Thank Me Later” mixtape tracks. He and his DJ had neither in the memory banks, let alone in the queue.
5) Despite its lyrics: yes, “Crew Love” is a “f*cking singalong.” Put your ones up on “I’m on the One.” He didn’t perform the “Take Care” title track, but let the recording roll at the end of his set. Will he play it on Club Paradise even if he doesn’t have a Rihanna?
7) What he could actually use is a hype man. Those are some hard outs at the end of his tracks, and he could use another body up there to soften the blow from song to song. The canned harmonies and double-tracking can only do so much. We will see who he recruits.
6) Like his rhymes, Drake stays very much behind the beat live. He relishes in it, though he showed a little frustration with his monitors in grabbing the downbeats. His rapping voice also starts to pitch upward and he sings a little higher as the show progresses. He abandoned his chorus on “HYFR” to the crowd after its low speak-singing wasn’t delivering the right energy.
7) Going in to the thing, I made no mistake in thinking Drake would actually start on time. This stuff never does. And then the excuse given was a delayed flight, and around midnight we’re told he was in a car on the way over. Yet, there he was, hitting the mic at a nice round number, at 1 a.m. on the button. He probably really did have plane problems — “I almost died six times getting here!” — but this is just another example of orchestrated tardiness. Why not just hit it when you arrive?
8) Like Ansari, Drake in his own way was touting his paycheck from this event, summarily with “Headlines”: “I be yelling out ‘money over everything, money on my mind’,” he sang. We know, we know, we know.