As Drake circled the stage at the center of New York’s Madison Square Garden, urging his fans in a heartfelt speech to be kind to one another, he got sidetracked as a barrage of bras came flying at him in rapid succession.
“It’s easy to pay no mind to… to… sorry, the bra really threw me off,” the hip-hop superstar sputtered Sunday night, kicking aside various undergarments. “I was trying to say something motivational.”
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It was a moment of earnestness — overshadowed by boyish humor — that perfectly encapsulates Drake, a serious artist who, thank God, doesn’t take himself too seriously.
At the first of three sold-out shows at the Garden, preceded by four at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, he treated the arena audience to a nostalgic, high-concept exploration of his greatest hits — say, an “Eras” tour for the bros.
And boy were there bros, many of whom dressed up exactly like Drake, with matching hairstyles and trimmed beards. Bros hyping each other up and filming each other as they rap every word along with their idol. Bros in NYPD uniforms and badges giddily pulling out their phones to take videos of Drake while dealing with a seating dispute in the aisle. (Yes, that actually happened.)
Drake knows he has a tight grip on his fans, hilariously nodding to that fact by selling a tour T-shirt that says, “I Like What Drake Likes.” He spent much of the show singing and pointing directly at fans in the front row, who screamed back practically every word of every song. During “Laugh Now Cry Later,” the jumbotrons sniped men in the audience who were literally wiping tears from their eyes, overwhelmed with emotion.
And honestly, so was Drake, who paused the show multiple times to express his gratitude and devoted the final moments to honor the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh, noting that “his ideas and his energy is always with us.”
Oh yeah — the music: Drake delivered a healthy mix of early fan favorites and recent hits. The show was broken into four acts, separated by interludes featuring a young actor playing the rapper in his adolescent years. In one example, he flipped through channels in bed until stumbling upon “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” the Canadian teen drama that first launched Drake into fame, as a giant Peter Pan balloon floated overhead.
In a downtempo first act, Drake, dressed head to toe in camouflage, opened with “Take Care” deep cut “Look What You’ve Done” before segueing into “Marvin’s Room,” his heartbreak ballad to end all heartbreak ballads.
When he returned for the second set, wearing a military vest adorned with a Nike swoosh, he ascended from beneath the stage to the soaring overture of “Over,” the first single from his debut studio album “Thank Me Later.” For the next half-hour, the concert played like an electrifying highlight reel of Drake’s career, from “The Motto” to “Started From the Bottom” to “Know Yourself” to “Nonstop” to “Nice for What.” During “Headlines,” the stage turned into a Drake-bashing news chyron. On the floor-shaking “Sicko Mode,” he let the audience lead him to the beat drop. And with “God’s Plan,” Drake engaged both sides of the arena in a battle over who could sing a certain lyric louder — you know the one. The best part was that Drake seemed genuinely enthused to perform his decade-old hits, and to watch the crowd erupt as he transitioned from one to the next.
What followed was a less exciting third act in which Drake attempted to “turn Madison Square Garden into the club” with Rihanna’s “Work,” his EDM outing “Massive” and the dancehall-influenced “Controlla” and “One Dance.” From behind a DJ booth, Drake took celebratory shots with opener Lil Yachty, Zack Bia and Davido, among other close friends and collaborators.
Before the final set, Drake ceded the stage and shone a generous spotlight on 21 Savage, who performed a dozen of his own songs solo. Then, sporting yet another new outfit, Drake joined 21 onstage for “Knife Talk,” “Rich Flex” and a few tracks from their 2022 collaborative album “Her Loss.”
Before exiting the Garden, Drake took another stab at a motivational speech, in which he encouraged his fans to be grateful for being alive, and to spend more time with their families. And, in a spiel somewhere between inspiring and self-congratulatory, he went on about the people who doubted him on his road to success.
“A lot of people told me no,” Drake said to the sold-out arena. “You want to know who told me yes? Everybody in this building.”
Some might roll their eyes at one of music’s biggest stars continually framing himself as an underdog, and that’s fine. But the more Drake performs, breathing new life into old classics, with a heavy dose of sincerity, one thing becomes clear: It’s really hard to not like the guy.
View Drake’s setlist below:
Look What You’ve Done
Shot for Me
Feel No Ways
HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)
Started From the Bottom
Way 2 Sexy
Jumbotron Shit Poppin
Laugh Now Cry Later
Wait for U
In My Feelings
Nice for What
Find Your Love
One Dance (Amapiano Remix)
Calling My Name
Search & Rescue
Knife Talk (with 21 Savage)
On BS (with 21 Savage)
Spin Bout U (with 21 Savage)
Jimmy Cooks (with 21 Savage)
Rich Flex (with 21 Savage)
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