‘This dick ain’t free’ and neither was his concert (with seated tickets beginning at a steep $99.90), but his energy, set-list and lyrical performance made every cent worth it, and proved once again why exactly Kendrick is king.
Approaching the venue it wasn’t hard to tell that there was a hip-hop show going down; with Yeezys, Compton memorabilia and oversized t-shirts as abundant as the smell of pot outside Rod Laver Arena. Given the demographic and disposition of many of the concert-goers I was initially concerned as to the reception that opening act and prolific LA-based saxophonist Kamasi Washington would receive. Washington and his band were stunning, performing tracks from his aptly-titled three-hour-long album The Epic such as Change of the Guard and The Rhythm Changes (as assisted by Rickey Washington, Kamasi’s father, on soprano saxophone). The crowd however, the majority of which was likely unfamiliar with Washington’s sizeable discography, were most enchanted by the live and seemingly-improvised jam-session that comprised the majority of the opener’s set. From Washington’s wailing sax, to singer Patrice Quinn’s hypnotic vocals to drummer Tony Austin’s symbol-smashing solo (no really, a symbol copped such a vicious hammering it fell from its perch twice), it is clear to see why Washington’s ensemble is named The Next Step. They embody an appreciation of traditional jazz sensibilities, all the while endowing them with the energy and experimentation typical of genres like rock and hip-hop. The audience seemed to mirror this appreciation, but after a near-hour-long set they too were intent on taking the next step, onto the headliner.
Around 20 minutes after his scheduled start-time Cornrow Kenny finally graced our stage, with a noticeable but relatively unsubstantial delay. It’s an interesting question to ponder… could dissent have grown in the crowd had this wait blown out further? He’s Kendrick Lamar. A rapper as universally loved as he is revered. A beacon of humble beginnings, hard-work and incredible talent. He’s given us so much… the first 13 seconds of Maad City, the Control verse and the ever-timeless phrase, ‘ya bish’… So hypothetically what would it really take for a live crowd to get a bit antsy with K. Dot? But I digress, that’s a question for a day I hope will never come.
His appearance on stage, mic stand in hand, was enough to send the arena into a burst of cheers and applause. Aware of our eagerness, Kendrick teased us, approaching the microphone on several occasions only to back off with a trademark cheeky grin. Never have I experienced such an environment where people are so willing and attentive to hear someone else speak. I imagine the anticipation mirrors that of a Trump-supporter at a rally waiting with bated breath for their almighty Donald to make unsavoury allusions to his manhood. But believe it or not what Kendrick came out with was something infinitely more evocative, infinitely more unifying and infinitely more empowering… ‘This dick ain’t free’.
An interesting selection to start the show given For Free?’s status as an interlude, the crowd was nonetheless raucously involved. With the track’s ever increasing tempo, it served as a great warm-up for Kendrick who flowed flawlessly over the erratic instrumental of the track. This lyrical performance set the tone for the entire night, with Kendrick nailing some of the most challenging lyrical morsels of his catalogue, notably u and For Sale?.
While the set-list boasted songs spanning the entirety of Kendrick’s major label catalogue (with the only features from any of his pre-GKMC releases being the particularly stirring encores of I Am and ADHD), for mine the show had a distinct To Pimp a Butterfly feel. As per setlist.fm, numerically there were nine TPAB tracks, to GKMC’s six. While there was by no means a huge disparity in this department I believe this aforementioned TPAB aesthetic was established by Kendrick’s reliance on live instrumentation, which is synonymous with his sonic approach on To Pimp a Butterfly. Going in, I definitely wouldn’t have thought that the more synthetic albeit brilliant production on Good Kid Maad City would translate as well to a live band as well as it did. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the band greatly enhanced crowd enjoyment of the aforementioned songs, with each of the instrumentalists shining through on particular numbers.
The spectacle of the show, while undeniably improved by the masterful use of stage lights and the like, can largely be attributed to the performer. From his often frenetic delivery, to the sweat running down his face to his (I’m saying it now) Top 5 Dead or Alive rap hands… it was Kendrick himself who inspired the energy of the crowd. This, coupled with his occasional poignant and touching words of self-love and unity, meant that the show went beyond a merely wild concert experience, and became a genuinely inspiring wild concert experience (the words ‘we are Kendrick Lamar’ are still fresh in my mind).
Unfortunately, Kendrick never broached untitled unmastered. territory in the set-list, much to the disappointment of those in attendance with their two’s in the air (myself included), wanting a live performance of his latest project’s second track. The closest we got to an untitled cut was a delightful, ‘pimp, pimp… hooray!’ between songs. Although a brief moment, you could tell King Kendrick got a kick out of hearing the call-and-response of a live audience, potentially because it was one of the first times he’s got to do it at a show (with untitled unmastered. only being released earlier this month).
This minor complaint aside, Kendrick provided us with a truly incredible show.
In giving Melbourne a show as emotionally varied and intense as his discography, he also gave us a show we will never forget.