Live review: Drake dazzles at Radio City with Jay-Z

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You never quite know what to believe with Drake: One minute he's the slick entertainer who makes kid-friendly Sprite commercials, the next he's a bad-boy rapper whose biggest hit hinges on the line "You the fuckin' best." And as evidenced at last night's triumphant Radio City show, it's these apparent contradictions that make Drake a star, rather than merely a talented celebrity; you can't quite figure him out, and part of the fun is trying. The other part, of course, is just soaking in the sound of tracks from So Far Gone and Thank Me Later (set list below), booming through this glorious venue. Either way, it's clear that Drake is having a ball—dancing round the stage, literally basking in the spotlight and grinning a gleaming smile at every gleeful crowd sing-along. Drake is an actor, so he's used to learning lines and communicating, emoting etc.; at one point he even goes down on one knee with his hand in the air, "Alas, poor Yorick"--style. But it's also obvious that he genuinely loves his songs, and loves hip-hop.

And of course, Drake loves the ladies. They in turn love him—arriving at the venue, one after another, in ever more dazzling stilettos, sequins, etc. (these are the girls he sings about in "Fancy": "Nails done, hair done, everything big..."). The sense of occasion is in stark contrast with Drake's turn at teen booze-up festival the Bamboozle last spring; but one gets the impression that even if Drake played Buckingham Palace, he would still find a hot girl in the audience to pull up onstage and "serenade." Click past the jump for more. Drake knows how to be charming and subtle, but his girl-onstage routine is always crass (if hilarious). A girl totters onstage, Drake warns her that he might be "licking on you, sucking on you," and proceeds to paw her as the crowd screams its approval. It's exactly like Elvis Presley's girl-kissing shtick from the early '70s. The update is not that it's more explicit now; rather, it's the fact that Drake informs the girl that he wants to give her gift: a brand-new BlackBerry Touch from AT&T (he explains the setup procedure in detail). The girl's expression says she'd rather have a kiss, but whatever. Is he a sellout? Hardly. A couple of songs later, he singles out a couple of fans wearing Drake T-shirts and laughs, "Anybody who got Drake tees, you got money, that shit is overpriced, man."

The guest list—onstage, that is—at tonight's show is impressive. He's joined by Francis Farewell Starlite for "Karaoke" (which Starlite cowrote); Fabolous; Young Money rookies Baby (for "Money to Blow"); Mack Maine and Tyga ("Every Girl," "Bedrock"); R&B smoothy Trey Songs, who croons his new single, "Can't Be Friends"; and Swizz Beatz for a thrilling "Fancy." Each guest clearly enjoys his moment in the Radio City spotlight; but at Jay-Z's arrival, the crowd goes berserk. He strolls on in a leather bomber jacket (like a billion-dollar indie-rocker) and joins Drake for "Light Up," "Thank Me Later" and "On to the Next One." Even Drake gazes at him with puppyish admiration. Drake is noticeably sweatier and sillier thereafter, switching the lights onto the crowd and singling out fans; his "I see you" approach is less tactful than Jay-Z's, it has to be said ("You're lookin' sunburned, baby...," "You in the Free Weezy shirt with the camera, you look like a tourist," "That fabric is like my dad's car seat, " "You came out on crutches, that's love..."), but he's funnier than he's generally given credit for. He's also a remarkable poet, tossing off rhymes like "Better late than never/Never late is better" like he was just rifling through the trash. "Find Your Love" closes the show, Drake shrugging, "I'm 23, going through a midlife crisis/Fuck it, I still deliver like a midwife" as sparks rain down, and lasers crisscross the stage. An enjoyably excessive drum solo follows, and Drake mimes shooting himself in the head, falling to his knees. Oh, the drama! He tells us that he was a little nervous, for the first time, when he was told he could play Radio City. Whether we believe him or not, it's enjoyable to be flattered by Drake—consummate entertainer, pinup and poet. As the last of the audience files out of the auditorium, a crowd of girls can be heard screaming backstage. You can sense his flashy white grin from here.


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