The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

When he’s not playing the victim, a Drake concert is a wonder to behold

Drake — wearing the high school jersey of Washington Wizards star John Wall — performs at Capital One Arena. (Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)

As Drake paced and galloped across a barren stage in the middle of Capital One Arena on Thursday night, the floor’s full-sized video screen transformed into a field of lava, an infinity pool or a galaxy of stars, depending on his mood.

The most telling was when the floor projections put the rapper in the crosshairs of a gun’s sight. That’s been Drake’s default mood for years now: persecuted, aggrieved, under fire. And while it certainly resonated with an arena full of fans — who doesn’t want to pin their disappointments and failings on Others, Haters, Them? — its becoming increasingly tiresome from one of the best-selling artists of the decade.

But when he’s not “upset,” calling for an end to “lovey dovey” stuff and decrying “fake love,” Drake puts on one helluva show. Fans paid top dollar for tickets to the concert (some twice: Wednesday night’s show at Capital One was a sellout), and Drake delivers one of the best arena shows in memory.

It’s a technical marvel, with transparent video screens, a flying Ferrari, a constellation of fireflies, a Fourth of July-worth of fireworks, and true-to-life 3-D effects, like when a digital Drake floated over the stage in a glass case of emotions. Perhaps the most synergistic effect was when Drake turned the floor into his iPhone, scrolling through an Instagram account full of people doing the Kiki Challenge, a viral craze inspired by his single “In My Feelings.”

“In My Feelings” is one of the best songs on Drake’s latest chart destroyer, “Scorpion”; along with “Nice For What” it’s one of two new songs that borrows liberally from New Orleans’ frenetic bounce style. Both went off on Thursday, along with Drake’s other souvenirs from clubs around the world, songs inspired by everything from dancehall (“Controlla”) to UK funky (“One Dance”). With amoebic osmosis, he’s also jacked swagger from, among others, Memphis phenom BlocBoy JB and Atlanta trio Migos, his tourmates.

Migos performed before Drake in coordinating bondage flight suits, pulverizing eardrums with a few handfuls of their hits. Quavo, Offset and Takeoff finish each other’s sentences with their percussive flows, AutoTuned croons and trademark ad-libs like a rap Cerberus, guarding the gates of hip-hop cool.

They returned midway through Drake’s set in primary-color sweatsuits to perform their latest hits — “Walk It Talk It,” “Stir Fry,” and “MotorSport” — for a much-needed infusion of joy. Naturally, they performed “Versace,” their first hit, one that Drake helped propel with a remix.

Some artists buckle under the weight of a Drake co-sign, but not Migos. They continue to switch their style up just enough to keep ahead of audiences and bandwagon jumpers. “Do it for the culture,” as Quavo raps on “T-Shirt,” “They gon’ bite like vultures.” It’s true: a culture vulture like Drake keeps biting. But at least he puts on a good show.