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As Drake prepares to take over The O2, we review his awesome Manchester show

By Emily Watson
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Drake hits the O2 this week for seven mega shows. What can you expect? Bangers, basketball tricks and a flying Ferrari...

It’s a wet Sunday evening and stilettos and bottles of vino with straws are the order of the day at the first night of the European leg of Drake’s Assassination Vacation tour. Well, with London tickets selling for between £80 and several hundred pounds a pop, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that fans at the Manchester Arena are treating this night out like it’s their last. You only live once, right Drizzy?

By every conceivable metric, Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham is one of the biggest artists in the world. He was the most streamed act in 2018 – and nearly every one of the 25 tracks on his fifth album ‘Scorpion’ made it into the charts, netting it platinum certification the day it was released. So how do you synthesise all that into a two-hour show that works on an arena-scale? The answer: cleverly cherry-pick from that incredible back catalogue,  then throw in the ‘Austin Powers’ theme tune, video clips of him and Rihanna living it up, pyrotechnics (in time to ‘Jumpman’) and a halfway line basketball competition in which a punter tries (and fails) to win £20,000. In cash.

Kanye West basically rewrote the rule book on staging for arena shows on his 2016 Saint Pablo tour by using a floating stage, and Drake has picked up where Yeezy left off. He performs the entire show from the middle of the arena, jumping about on a rectangular platform, which saw every seat in the place get a slice of the action. That setup means he can’t turn his back on one side without ignoring another, which left him frantically sprinting circuits – in his Louis Vuitton by Virgil Abloh military vest – while holding down an impressive lyrical flow.

But when he isn’t physically sweating, Drake lets the production sweat the details. Not that he needs it, but there’s plenty to distract the audience from every move. Micro-drone lights flicker elegantly above. The stage floor becomes a giant HD screen turning the stage into random shit like molten lava and a swimming pool (during chart-topper ‘Hotline Bling’). Even his own frenetic Insta feed appears at one point, cutting to an incoming call from his ‘ting’ during ‘In My Feelings’. Cringe? Absolutely. But Drake’s penchant for confessing his feelings has long been an enthralling trait, and it shines here.

Throwing it back to second album ‘Take Care’, from 2011, he flawlessly reels off 30-second snippets of tracks like ‘Headlines’, ‘HYFR’ and ‘Crew Love’, bigging up his day-one fans – most of the arena, judging by the crowd’s screams (could have been the wine talking, mind). He hits a couple of bum notes on smooth smash ‘Passionfruit’ and a pitched-down version of ‘Jaded’, but then pauses for a mid-set breather, inviting south London’s in-demand rapper Dave to the stage, accompanied by Fredo. The pair perform their number one hit ‘Funky Friday’ as the stage floor transforms into a giant Union Jack.

Of course, Drizzy has loads of bangers, but the genius of this show comes from the way he effortlessly crafts pacey medleys that enrapture the crowd. He even works in his duet with Lil Baby, ‘Yes Indeed’, as a yellow Ferrari levitates into the air and over the sea of phone lights below. The car takes less than half a lap around the stage before being lowered swiftly away while Drake yells ‘Yellow Ferrari like Pikachu’ into the mic – this feels more like a gimmick than any sort of artistic statement, but the crowd certainly wasn’t complaining.

A notable omission is last year’s hit ‘Don’t Matter To Me’, which features an unreleased Michael Jackson sample from a demo originally recorded in 1983. Drake performed it on tour in the US last autumn, but in the wake of ‘Leaving Neverland’, it’s no longer in the setlist, which seems to speak volumes.

Drake’s musical finesse is undeniable. But the theatrics of this show sometimes feel a bit OTT, distracting from his raw talent. That said, he ends with ‘God’s Plan’ and tells the still-pumped crowd how he loves seeing people from all races and all places at his shows. All things considered, in these divided times, it’s pretty hard to hate on a guy able to generate quite so much love in one room.

Drake plays the O2 on Apr 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 11. Tickets for all shows are still available.

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