MUSIC REVIEW

With a smirk or a scowl, Drake ignites admirers

Friendly confines: Drake connected with fans in Constitution Hall.
Friendly confines: Drake connected with fans in Constitution Hall. (Mark Gail/the Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo

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By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2010

It started with a smile and ended with a sneer.

And during his 26 songs that came gushing in between, Drake showed precisely why he's emerged as the most seductive new voice in pop music -- a neophyte superstar who toggles between the pillowy and the petulant, rapping and singing with commensurate elegance. He's not a cavalier mood-swinger in the mold of Kanye West. He's a pensive chin-stroker who can render the dizziness of fame with clarity and warmth.

"I came here tonight in an attempt to further our relationship," Drake bantered early in Saturday night's set -- his first in a two-night stand at DAR Constitution Hall. But his come-hither smirk quickly wilted into a scowl as he promised fans a glimpse into "my dreams and my nightmares."

For the most part, he kept it dreamy. Infatuated teens wailed as if it was the first pop concert they'd ever seen -- and for many, that certainly appeared to be the case. As the 23-year-old child-actor-turned-rapper sauntered onstage to join his six-piece band, fans jammed into the aisles leading up to the stage, their trembling hands shooting iPhone videos that viewers will need a double dose of Dramamine to watch on YouTube. Flashlight-toting security guards eventually shooed the kids back to their seats. One middle-aged usher danced in the fire lane she had just cleared.

You could practically smell the endorphins. Saturday night was a chance for a crowd of nearly 4,000 to see a platinum-selling pop star pop in relatively intimate confines. And the fans knew it, greeting nearly every song with a banshee howl usually reserved for the biggest hit of the night.

During "Successful," a sobering ballad about losing yourself in the hurricane of fame, Drake let the crowd's excitement push him out of his depths. "Any awards show or party, I'll get fly for it," he shouted over the screaming din that a pro could have hushed -- or intensified. "I know that it's coming, I just hope that I'm alive for it!" he yelled, voice straining. The velvet melancholy of his most captivating song had been botched.

Rookie mistake.

He was agile and magnetic with "Show Me a Good Time," delivering speedy rhymes over a track that sounded like a sneezing robot. During "Light Up," he fluttered his right hand erratically, as if tapping out some secret inner rhythm, and eventually recoiled into a grimace worthy of an overburdened celebrity -- and a Canadian one, at that. "I'm just filling up this daily planner," he glowered. "Gettin' busy 'cause I'm a star, no spangled banner."

There were no maple-leaf flags draped overhead -- just a large, glowing orb that hovered above the proceedings like a giant mood ring. And fountains of sparks erupted onstage during the chorus of "Fireworks," offering a miniature version of the pyrotechnics that explode every July Fourth just a few blocks away.

Along with the stately stage props, Drake's performance didn't come without a little ham and cheese. For a guy who posits himself as a fame-weary demon-wrassler, he has no problem with playing the heartthrob and often baited the crowd with promises of massage oil and wedding rings. At one point, he invited a young woman onstage, held her close, and -- thanks to the generosity of his corporate sponsors -- gave her a new BlackBerry. What a gentleman.

But he was all artist on "Miss Me," rapping with tenacity: "World Series attitude, champagne bottle life/Nothing ever changes so tonight is like tomorrow night." Apparently so. That daily planner he had mentioned earlier seemed to have gone missing when he cited the show as his Washington debut, clearly forgetting his 9:30 Club gig back in June.

Or maybe Drake just wanted to make this crowd feel special for a night. That was certainly the case during the coda of "Miss Me," when he took a full 10 minutes to single out fans in the crowd. "I see you in the black and white top," he said, his attention skipping from one young lady to the next. "You in the high Andre 3000 pants!"

But for the show's final number, "Over," he pointed the spotlight back toward the paranoid voices pinballing inside his cranium. Band blaring behind him, he glared at the fans he had just been ogling. "I know way too many people here right now that I didn't know last year," he rapped. "Who the [bleep] are y'all?"

From the Constitution Hall stage, he could see every smile in the house. But in Drake's new stratosphere, he still has yet to decide whether those adoring masses are friend or foe.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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