He’s only 23, but Chance the Rapper has already outgrown his moniker. After breaking through with his instant-classic “Acid Rap” mix tape in 2013, Chance dabbled in band-leading on last year’s “Surf,” an album credited to collaborators Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment. But it is “Coloring Book,” a mix tape he released in May, on which Chance has found his true — or at least next — calling: spiritual leader of a gospel-rap revival.
On Thursday night, Chance brought the Magnificent Coloring World Tour to the EagleBank Arena in Fairfax County, turning a stunning mix tape into a Broadway-ready spectacular. Backed by Donnie Trumpet, musical director Peter Cottontale and drummer Greg “Stix” Landfair Jr., Chance took a hero’s journey through his catalogue, playing the entirety of “Coloring Book,” along with fan favorites from “Acid Rap,” a handful of featured appearances and even a song from a mix tape he released when he was just 16 years old.
No matter their provenance, Chance and his band pushed each song to its limits, with overpowering beats, keyboard and trumpet runs that tickled the spine, while the always-nimble Chance spit, sung and squawked his memorable lyrics. The volume was overwhelming to both the senses and the soul: Judging by the crowd’s rapturous reaction, it caused a kind of ecstasy that seemed almost religious.
Chance and his band were not alone onstage: They were joined by a handful of Muppet-inspired puppets, including the human-size Carlos the Lion, who served as wise elder on Chance’s journey that unfolded throughout the evening, the Jiminy Cricket to his Pinocchio. The puppets and props (like a free-standing door and a childhood bed) added a theatrical touch to the concert, elevating it beyond mere hit parade.
And while Carlos was often played for laughs, the puppets also provided surprisingly touching moments. A fuzzy blue one stood in for absent singer D.R.A.M. on soulful lullaby “D.R.A.M. Sings Special,” and Chance played piano and “duetted” with a female puppet on “Same Drugs,” a song that uses a Peter Pan metaphor to explore nostalgia for childhood.
To combat that sense of loss, Chance turned to his faith, the defining theme of “Coloring Book” (and songs like Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam,” which he performed Thursday). After nearly 90 minutes, Chance closed with “Blessings (Reprise),” repeatedly asking members of the audience variations of, “Did you know that your blessing is coming?” He admitted that he might be “beating a dead horse,” but it seemed important for him to share this message, as if it were a sermon from a pulpit.
After “Coloring Book” and the Magnificent Coloring World Tour, the name Chance the Rapper is a Technicolor Dreamcoat that’s a few sizes too small. Perhaps Chance the Preacher would be a better fit.