Why Kendrick Lamar’s Reading headline slot was brilliant, but didn’t meet the sense of occasion

"He was the right man for the job, but the moment escaped us tonight"

The Reading and Leeds festival headline slot is one of the most coveted there is. That landmark billing that saw the likes of Nirvana, Blur and Oasis written into the pages of music history. However, as a festival that traditionally boasts a rock-oriented line-up, old school attendees were quick to criticise R+L booking the biggest rapper in the world to headline.

Yet the past few years have seen a shift in attendees’ attitudes: we just want what’s good, whether with six strings or not. Earlier in the day, an army of fans totally lost their shit to the self-proclaimed “best boyband since One Direction” Brockhampton, and there wasn’t a person in the tens of thousands watching pop superstar Dua Lipa who couldn’t scream ‘New Rules’ verbatim. We’ve come a long way since the bottling of Daphne & Celeste. Hell, Brendon Urie was once even knocked unconscious by a bottle back in ’06, and returned to victoriously co-headline earlier this evening.

So did Kendrick Lamar win over the gammons in his Saturday headline slot? Potentially.

Lamar’s DAMN. tour was a triumph. The setlist immaculate and stage production spectacular. With the mad Kung Fu Kenny clips throughout bizarrely brilliant, Kendrick himself shone as a superhero on top of his game. So it’s a shame that when the show moves to the Reading & Leeds festival stage, it feels somewhat lacklustre.

From the moment the lights dip and we hear Lamar’s opening bars “I got, I got, I got, I got/Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA” echoes across the arena, he’s on stellar form; breezing around the stage, and blitzing through his perfectly rehearsed live experience. It’s a shame, then, that so few seem to care. In front of us is a sea of teenagers viewing the show through their phones, ignoring the flawless version of ‘ELEMENT.’ happening in front of them.

Energy is reignited when Lamar drops ‘King Kunta’, and later ‘LOYALTY.’; but by this point the quasi-interested crowd seems to have rubbed off on him, and his performance now feels more like any other show, not the career highlight and taste of history that headlining Reading And Leeds is supposed to be. It’s something he’s more than capable of. This could have been his ‘Jay Z destroys the doubters at Glastonbury’ moment.

Kendrick Lamar, live

The rest of the set is technically perfection, but alas Lamar seems unenthused. The one-two punch finale of ‘Alright’ and ‘HUMBLE.’ just about gets people back on their feet, but hundreds of punters have left by the time he saunters back on stage for the encore of ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’.

Kendrick was absolutely the right person to be headlining Reading Festival, and we know he’s got the chops to make it special. So it’s just a shame that the moment escaped us tonight.

Kendrick Lamar’s setlist was:

DNA.
ELEMENT.
YAH. (Instrumental)
King Kunta
Big Shot (Kendrick Lamar & Travis Scott cover)
goosebumps (Travis Scott cover)
Collard Greens (ScHoolboy Q cover)
Swimming Pools (Drank)
Backseat Freestyle
LOYALTY.
Money Trees
XXX.
m.A.A.d city
PRIDE.
Alright
HUMBLE.

Encore:
Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe