Kendrick Lamar, James Blake: Manchester Arena, Manchester

By Vicky Pea
Mon 12 February, 2018

Vicky Pea tears up the draft and goes back to the drawing board after seeing Kendrick Lamar destroy her expectations in Manchester. 

The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America” proclaimed Dave Chappelle as part of Kendrick Lamar’s most recent Grammy performance.

That’s where this review was going to take off. Discussing the cultural merits of (probably) the most important artist in the world right now, whether or not his personal and political message could translate across the Atlantic with the same sting without the catalyst of a Trump leadership and seemingly worsening racial, sexual and religious discrimination.

Then we were going to talk about the man as multi award winning musician, how DAMN. became a daily listen in so many lives, even for thousands of white middle class kids that seemed to make up most of the (very visibly) sold out Manchester Arena to sing along to lyrics that are just that to them, words and rhymes.

That would neatly lead into a point about how the commercial success has now basically left those who represent with his music most unable to obtain seeing it live. With roaring ticket prices and even a golden circle set up it’s clear that despite not making it a central pillar of his music, rap always is and always will be notoriously intertwined with money. Getting it and having it.

It took approximately two minutes for me too abandon this plan, because absolutely none of it matters. I no longer give a shit about the difference in political climates, nor the makeup of the crowd, or even the commercial aspects. In fact if I could go back I’d buy golden circle tickets myself. This was up there with the best shows I’ve ever been to.

From the first word of DNA to the last of GOD. neither Kendrick nor the crowd let up, with every opening bar being greeted like it was the biggest song in the world, I can’t think of a show I’ve ever been to where every song evoked a freak out.

Thankfully there were no glamorous backing dancers, guest appearances or extravagant stage dressings and so just like the man himself the show was enigmatic and engaging whilst maintaining and air of minimalism and simplicity. The single appearances of a ninja and a contemporary dancer being the only times Kendrick would share his stage. Or stages.

His goofy sense of humour too became apparent through the use of pre-recorded between song videos – think retro, low budget, back effect kung fu b-movies featuring the adventures of the Black Turtle aka Kung Fu Motherfucking Kenny. The videos giving the audience a rare chance to catch their breath and rest their tongues as Kendrick would take the chance to move between stages or get into position to allow a dramatic entrance.

As popular as DAMN. has been tonight proved that Kendrick is an artist with a legacy, tracks from TPAB, Good Kid and untitled unmastered actually getting the biggest receptions of the night, well maybe except for HUMBLE.

What more is there to say that the video doesn’t? We’re all familiar with whats expected from the crowd during HUMBLE but nothing quite prepares you. Especially when it came to the ovation that followed. Any good gig will have a moment where the crowd show their love and appreciation with elongated applause and screams but this one went on so long I started laughing at its ridiculousness.

Every time it looked like dying down a part of the crowd would take it on themselves to keep it going, of course it didn’t take too long to get to a “Ohhh Kendrick Lamar” verse. Lamar himself seemed pretty chuffed with it, letting it go on until either his satisfaction or impatience drew it to a noisy close.

The Manchester Arena was filled with nothing but respect tonight for an icon of not only music but culture in general, a display of how much the world needs him and more of his ilk. Long live Kung Fu Kenny.

The man tasked with both unenviable and at the same time incredible enviable job of opening up the stint of the tour is James Blake.

Five or six years ago it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Blake aim at shows of this stature himself and so it’s a little odd, if not a treat to see him in a supporting role.

Having moved deeper into acclaimed producer territory – working with Kendrick on DAMN. as well as award winning collaborations with the likes of Jay-Z, Frank Ocean and Beyonce – in the past couple of years, it’s pleasing to see he’s lost none of his stage craft.

What’s more pleasing is that the crowd haven’t lost sight of Blake‘s work either, CMYK, Retrograde and Limit To Your Love all particularly well received now years later – even if some probably didn’t realise that was him.

With a dozen shows still to go on this tour we hope it leads him back onto a stage of his own without too much delay, which after all has to be the desired result when it comes to support gigs.