Kendrick Lamar @ Perth Arena
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
It’s hard to remember a more adored figure gracing West Australian stages. Kendrick Lamar had Perth Arena heaving from the mosh pit to the rafters, delivering lyrics so good the crowd knew every word. The energy in the room was immense as Kung Fu Kenny made his presence felt, kicking off his biggest Australian tour to date.
It was also a reminder of his only previous visit to Perth, playing the Astor Theatre in December 2012. That night felt like a moment in time when the room came together as one for an upcoming hero of hip hop, who seemed to have a gift destined for greatness. It was soon after the October release of good kid, m.A.A.d city that year but word had already gotten around. Lyrics were universally shouted back at him; there was no killing his vibe.
Tuesday’s Perth Arena show was on a far bigger scale, adding pyrotechnics, micro-stages and impressive visuals, but the essence was similar. The Pulitzer Prize winning lyricist has a flow and a way with words that leaves contemporaries in his dust.
Times were pushed back when Inglewood, California R&B opener SiR didn’t take the stage until some 45 minutes after his scheduled start time. The fellow Top Dawg signing was less about rhymes and more about soulful R&B in the vein of Miguel, but despite the karaoke vibes singing to a backing track he held the room nicely on favourites such as D’Evils.
By the time Kendrick Lamar finally rose up out of the middle of the stage, excitement levels were at fever pitch. From there he only took it up a notch with a killer opening sequence including DNA, Element and King Kunta. The latter provoked a spectacular hands in the air moment from the crowd, while memorable lines such as “I’m willing to die for this shit” from Element pointed to the universal nerve Lamar hits on regularly.
For the faithful, an early high point came with the one-two mash up of Swimming Pools (Drank) into Backseat Freestyle. For all the acclaim last two albums DAMN. and To Pimp A Butterfly have received, there’s a strong case for good kid still being Kendrick’s best record. Never was this more evident than when, in the night’s most electric moment, Lamar emerged in the middle of the dance floor on a micro-stage that glittered with lights as he rose up through the centre to finally appear perilously atop the construction and perform Money Trees. To the delight of EVERYONE. It was a spectacle to say the least, and lyrics such as “the one in front of the gun lives forever” felt as epic as the production around it.
Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe was another good kid favourite later in the set, and slower tracks such as this, Loyalty and Love were received with as much enthusiasm as the bangers. U2 collaboration XXX was one of several songs to feature a contemporary dancer sharing stage time with Kenny, while in typical mainstream hip hop fashion, his live band was largely hidden either side of the stage.
A leading Black Lives Matter activist and devout Christian, Lamar nonetheless showed us his comic side with intermission videos portraying video game star Kung Fu Kenny slaying his enemies and getting the girl, winking knowingly at the audience from the big screen.
The set finished with the mighty one-two of Alright into Humble, and it was all about the latter as the crowd sang the first two minutes entirely a cappella. It seemed to impress even Lamar, who rewarded them by starting again from scratch, effectively playing his biggest track twice. While some still seem to misconstrue its meaning, there was no doubting Humble‘s appeal as a unifying closer.
A brief encore of God followed; one of Lamar’s personal faves from DAMN. but a strange choice perhaps when he still had favourites like The Blacker The Berry, These Walls, Good Kid and All The Stars in his arsenal. But it hardly mattered to a crowd that was, yes, humbled by what they’d just seen.
A communal experience where people shared verses with others they’d never met in the crowd, Kendrick Lamar’s Tuesday night triumph provided a thrilling, up-close glimpse at one of the most fascinating stars on the planet.