If you do anything over the next 10 days, make sure you grab a ticket to witness Kung Fu Kenny's arena extravaganza
It’s wise in moments of euphoria to just spare a moment to take stock of your surroundings, and, if possible, find the right words to say. It’s something that Kendrick Lamar is getting rather used to doing, with the rapper taking a contemplative pause in Birmingham last night (February 9) to rise above the surge of adoration to state: “We got something special going on here…”
He wasn’t wrong. The Compton rapper kicked off the first date of the UK leg of his ‘DAMN.’ world tour – after opening his latest European jaunt in Dublin on Wednesday (February 7) – in the second city’s Genting Arena, with his loyal Birmingham subjects (including Kasabian‘s Serge Pizzorno, who was no doubt taking notes) coming out in full force to witness a seemingly untouchable artist at the peak of his powers. Plus, he’s only gone and got James Blake to support him – a huge, huge coup for any ticketholder.
Kendrick’s ongoing victory lap following the release of his all-conquering fourth studio album last April has given us lucky folk in the UK a chance to bear witness to an artist who in the past few years has grown in stature, influence and sheer class both on and off the stage. If you’ve got a ticket for the ‘DAMN.’ tour and don’t want any spoilers about what goes down – well, sadly, this is where we must part.
But for anyone who’s in need of any further confirmation that Kendrick’s UK tour is one of the must-see music events on these shores this year – well, read on…
James Blake is slowly but surely getting arena-ready
Blake’s support slot on the ‘DAMN.’ tour may look like an unusual billing for the now-seasoned London artist, but the 29-year-old appears to be more than happy to play second fiddle to Lamar on this particular venture. His huge respect for the Compton rapper aside, Blake’s willingness to return to the role of support act could actually be read as the perfect preparation for his own imminent foray into the world of headline arena tours. After all, a new album is on the way…
Blake makes room for three new tracks from that forthcoming LP – including the glitchy yet alluring ‘If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead’ – in a reduced set which also sees typically bass-heavy renditions of the likes of ‘Timeless’, ‘Limit To Your Love’ and the absolutely seismic ‘CMYK’. It’s short, but very, very sweet – could headline gigs in similarly-sized venues become the norm for Blake once the follow-up to ‘The Colour In Anything’ drops? Watch this space…
In ‘DNA.’, Kendrick has one of the great set-openers of all time
“You’re in for a great night with Kendrick Lamar,” Blake teases mid-way through his set, as if everyone in attendance wasn’t overdosing on anticipation already. And, as the lights faded and the curtain dropped, BANG: “I got, I got, I got, I got…” Welcome to The Kendrick Lamar Show.
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‘DAMN.’ really takes flight as an audio masterpiece at the conclusion of its tantalising opener, ‘BLOOD.’: a sample of an eye-rolling Fox News discussion which disparages the rapper’s 2015 track ‘Alright’ (“Oh please, ugh, I don’t like it”) is punctured by Kendrick, sounding hungrier than ever, essentially telling them where to go in the form of the remorseless ‘DNA.’. And it’s that song that serves as the perfect set opener, with the rapper bouncing around the stage breathlessly delivering the intense, focused flow that we’ve all come to know and love Kendrick for.
Then there’s banger after banger after… well, banger
Kendrick’s discography expanded this week with the release of the Black Panther soundtrack, which he executively produced. But it’s the sweetest pickings from his back catalogue that really keep the night flowing: the effervescent funk of ‘King Kunta’, the ballsy brilliance of ‘Backseat Freestyle’, the still-stunning and anthemic ‘Alright’ – even his star turn on the jittering ScHoolboy Q track ‘Collard Greens’ is met with one of the biggest roars of approval of the night.
And then there’s the majesty of the finest cuts from ‘DAMN.’: the feverish ‘XXX’ (complete with intense police siren-lighting), the sadly Rihanna-less ‘Loyalty’, and the daring, snarling ‘Humble’ – which, if there was any further proof needed of the manner in which Kendrick is currently revered, had three-quarters of its content sung back at Kendrick at deafening volume by his fans without any accompaniment from a backing track or his magnificent three-piece band.
The legend of ‘Kung Fu Kenny’
Not content with winning multiple Grammys, curating film soundtracks and getting regularly paged by a former President, it seems that Kendrick also wants to convince us that he could definitely hack it as a kung fu movie star. Over the course of three short films which are played during the gig, Kendrick is cast as the intrepid, black belt-holding “Black Turtle”, who undergoes trials, tribulations and one delightful Street Fighter sequence that doesn’t need the finer points spoiled here – never have the interludes between set pieces at a gig been this much fun…
“Get Bruce Lee on the phone…”
A man of the people
Kendrick last properly toured in the UK back in 2013 in support of his breakthrough album ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’, and so – barring a few huge festival appearances in the intervening 5 years – the ‘DAMN.’ Tour is the first chance for many of his UK fans to see him play in their local enormodome. His connection to the Brummie locals is palpable: towards the end of the show, he points to one fan in the hallowed “golden circle” section and claims to recognise him from the first time he played in the city back in January 2013.
Kendrick also decides mid-way through the set to bring the show even closer to his people by performing in an elevated cage in the middle of the regular standing section, with ‘Good Kid…’ track ‘Money Trees’ the undeniable highlight of this wonderful, inclusive part of the evening.
Ohhh, Kendrick Lamarrr…
Oh, and if all of the above wasn’t enough: Kendrick was even given the ‘Seven Nation Army’ treatment by the Birmingham faithful, putting him right up there with an array of top footballers and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn.
Kendrick is here in the UK for a good time, but certainly not a long time – make sure you beg, steal or borrow (or, you know, buy an actual ticket) in order to see Kung Fu Kenny land a spinning bird kick at an arena near you.
Kendrick Lamar played:
untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016
New Freezer [Rich the Kid cover]
Collard Greens [ScHoolboy Q cover]
Swimming Pools (Drank)
FEEL. [Intro only]
Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
Tickets for Kendrick Lamar’s remaining UK tour dates are still on sale – see his full live UK schedule below:
10 – Arena, Manchester
11 – SSE Hydro, Glasgow
12 – The O2, London
13 – The O2, London
20 – The SSE Arena, Wembley, London