Review: Drake

Antonia Charlesworth watches the Boy Meets World tour at Manchester Arena on 12 February

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Arenas are hardly conducive to a good time. You can be seated around 100 metres away from the act you’ve paid a small fortune to see in a vast, soulless space, you’ll likely be greeted with an unfriendly frisk and, if you visited Manchester Arena on 12 February, you would have been subjected too to stern police warnings, poised sniffer dogs and intense eye contact from stewards informing you: “Once you’re in, you stay in!”

It’s some feat then, that Aubrey “Drake” Graham, the Canadian emo-rapper, managed to make 20,000 adoring fans feel like they were at his private party. It’s hard not to be charmed by Drake. He spent a good portion of between-track chatter buttering up the young crowd who gleefully ate it up without considering their cholesterol levels. Manchester, he said, felt like his second home (after two days) and this crowd was clearly the loudest, most welcoming he’d ever had. He even blew off the Grammys for us! Despite the shameless flirting, Drake mostly avoids being a sleazy rapper and you get the feeling that the baby-faced 30-year-old really is a nice guy.

Drake straddles the fine line between rap clichés and originality throughout his Boy Meets World show. He brags about money in his lyrics, but not about the golden Hummers and Cristal it pays for, and his lyrics are relatively unimpaired by violence, drugs or misogyny. He uses massive gimmicks to deliver them – arriving out of the bowels of the stage there are light displays including a massive inflatable planet and actual fire and fireworks. It culminates in a show that’s cameraphone-friendly, confirmed by the thousands held at arm’s length throughout. At one point, it almost seemed, Drake himself was glowing.

The rapper partied along at a respectful distance from four female dancers

But the majority of the time he occupies the stage alone. Instead of hype men, in the shadows there’s a live drummer and DJ – who’s also his oldest friend and manager. At the pinnacle of the show, and it really is a show, he was joined by four female dancers for a handful of tracks but, a far cry from video hos, they were dressed in Drake’s signature black – leggings and cropped sweatshirts for them – and only did a bit of tongue-in-cheek twerking during a brilliant cover of Rihanna’s Work. The rapper partied along at a respectful distance before praising them for their hard work.

Arena gigs too have a habit of forcing even the biggest of fans into a seat. But not a single bum occupied the uncomfortable flappy plastic seat in Manchester from the second Drake rose onto the stage and bellowed the first note of Still Here. Opinions will inevitably divide over how the Torontonian powered his way through a back catalogue of nearly 40 songs over the ensuing 90 minutes. Most were only played for a verse and a chorus before he – usually seamlessly – moved on. Frustrating if you were hoping to get the full four minutes of Hotline Bling but Drake made up for it by briefly breaking out his meme-worthy dance moves, sending the audience into almost as much of a frenzy as he did the internet. With top-price tickets costing up to £150 Drake, it seems, was trying to offer his fans value for money and it’s difficult to see how any of his fans could be disappointed, especially since they saved a few quid on their bar tab – the borstal’s bar staff shut the taps off as soon as the show started.

His studio records veer towards over-production so it was refreshing to hear Drake’s voice unadorned by Autotune. The moments when his impressive vocal range and dance moves shone through were highlights. Winding down the show he treated his audience to more heartfelt chatter and a rendition of Legend – a song that demonstrates the paradox at the heart of his act. He has at once the huge ego synonymous with this genre and a disbelief that there’s 20,000 fans singing his lyrics back to him.

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