Kendrick Lamar’s first Australian tour since 2012 has just finished storming our east coast, and it was well worth the four year wait. He’s gone from playing at the Enmore Theatre to an at-capacity Allphones Arena and somehow skipped the ego inflation that usually goes hand-in-hand with an upsize of that magnitude. Really, if there was one thing that struck me at the Sydney show, it was how much Kendrick and Co. wanted to be there. Despite the enormous venue they managed to deliver the most intimate live performance I’ve ever seen.
Lamar opened with ‘For Free?’, a jazz-rap favourite from To Pimp a Butterfly, and the audience was with him from the first moment.
“This. Dick. Ain’t….?!” He bellowed into a space that had suddenly become fragrant with marijuana smoke.
“Freeeeeeeeeeeeee!” We answered.
And from there, Lamar didn’t let up. Much of the set came from Butterfly – the incredible, energetic ‘i’, snippets of ‘These Walls’, crowd-pleaser ‘King Kunta’, a ragged, heartfelt rendition of ‘u’, and pre-encore finale ‘Alright’. There were plenty of older favourites too – ‘Swimming Pools’, ‘Backseat Freestyle’, the relatively chilled-out ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill my Vibe’, ‘M.A.A.D City’ – and a brief dip into the classics catalogue with the delivery of ‘A.D.H.D’ as the triumphant encore.
Kendrick kept it short and sweet, with maybe an hour and a bit on stage. But he was at his very best for every single second of it. It’s difficult to find an artist who can give an album-quality performance live, but Lamar managed that and more. This was due in no small part to his tremendously talented backing band, who were definitely occupying the same technical plane as their leading man. I’ve never seen music made so organically, live or otherwise; the band was completely tuned into the emotional ebb and flow, creating subtle crescendos and injecting perfectly timed accents that complemented every level of Kendrick’s performance.
Much has already been written about Lamar’s farewell to legendary MC Phife Dawg, and I won’t say much more here. While I wasn’t particularly familiar with Phife Dawg’s work, it’s always sad to hear of the passing of any artist. Kendrick turned this tragedy into a moment of remembrance – it was all phones and lighters out, and Phife’s name being chanted – before launching into a killer finale.
This was a show with no problems. Kendrick was amazing. Security and police maintained a low presence and, from what I could see, were barely required. The crowd was respectful: they were wild, but nobody was starting fights in the pit, nobody was overdosing, we were all there to see Kendrick, and he definitely seemed pleased to see us. He had this amazing grin plastered across his face all night, and didn’t seem to believe how many folks had turned out. I don’t know if there’s anybody who appreciates their fans as much as Lamar does.
To try and describe more would be doing the show a disservice. If you get a chance, go see Kendrick Lamar. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out.