Whether she knew it or not, the blonde Newport Beach cougar that Drake brought onstage last night at the Honda Center had an important role to play in his quest to prove his status as the Millennial Elvis.
Toward the middle of the Canadian rapper's set, she appeared onstage following his request to find a “mature woman” in the audience. We hesitate to take a stab at guessing her age, but if it helps you out, her name was Virginia. The audience erupted in cheers as they took in the image of this quintessential OC soccer mom in a suede jacket, jeans and a turtle neck being turned into an elated teenage girl by Drizzy's soft coos on the outro of the inescapable summer jam “Hold On, We're Going Home.” It was one of many conceits that describe just how ubiquitous his role in pop culture has become. After all, you're not really famous until you can turn the mothers of your core fans into groupies.
After his arrival, he reminded us that the last time he was on the Honda Center stage he was opening for Snoop Dogg at Powerhouse in 2010. In the years since his debut album Thank Me Later, he's acquired enough fame to host his own show full of abbreviated versions of his top shelf tracks.
Drake's unabashed desire to be known as a hip-hop innovator got a little bit louder this year following the release his third full length of Nothing Was the Same. And while there's still hesitation on the part of critics to grant truth to that title, most can concede that Ontario's leading hip-hop export is at least making some well-needed adjustments to become the icon he's already telling us he is.
He emerged from the top of a tilted circular stage, donning a casual, all-white getup akin to a basketball player's warm up uniform and proceeded to work his court like an all-star athlete. We even saw a few ghost dribbles in his repertoire of dance moves as he kicked things off appropriately with the overextended intro “Tuscan Leather.” Opting to get most of the new material out of the way early is a standard move in any live setting. But the onslaught of solipsistic verses and moody beats that might thrive in our headphones on this new album left the crowd more hypnotized than energized in the early part of the set– even though he was obviously super excited to show them off on this tour, which included openers Miguel and Future.
Whether it was the ambling, complex verses of “Wu-Tang,” or the writhing, woozy tales of 1 a.m. lust on “Connect,” it reminded us that the R&B infused style he's perfected on his records might get it turnt up on the bedroom, but not necessarily the stage.
Thankfully there was more than enough material from Thank Me Later and Take Care to go around, not including his verses on FM earworms like ASAP Rocky's “Fucking Problems” or 2Chainz' “No Lie” which he whipped out of his catalog like sticks of dynamite. Predictably, the crowd exploded as pillars of smoke enveloped the stage.
There were a couple moments where the rapper allowed cameos to take the spotlight off of him. The first was tour mate Future, who was celebrating a birthday last night and came out to accept daps and a hug from Drizzy before launching into his radio hit “Same Damn Time.” Not shy to address media rumors about Future being booted from the tour for bad mouthing his new album, Drake embraced the rapper and used the mic to put any questions about their reported beef to rest.
“Fuck what ya heard, this is my brother for life,” he said. Here's hoping things stay patched up for the two of them.
The other more stunning appearance came from rising R&B dynamo Jhene Aiko who impressed the crowd with a live rendition of her hook over the smoldering, piano-plunking track “From Time.”
To the crowd's credit, the wax and wane of the set's energy from club bangers to balladry didn't kill the excitement in the room by the time Drake was ready to pull out his best trick of the night– a circular, elevated catwalk that allowed him to rise all the way up to the top tiers and and paint us all with compliments like a dedicated window washer.
Borrowing a page from the Jay-Z playbook, he singled out the rowdiest/hottest audience members one by one. “I see you mama, in the stripes, couldn't miss you if I tried. I see you in the OVO t-shirt…” It was an example in crowdside manner that definitely raised the bar for the next big hip-hop star who decides to come through and try it (*cough*Kanye*cough*). And made his rendition of “Started From the Bottom” feel just that much more beloved to the people in the cheap seats who were glad he took the time to work his way up to say hello. Just like cougar Virginia, his display of affection was definitely reciprocated.
The Crowd: Ladies. Lots of them.
Overheard: Girl walking behind me after the show. “Ugh, I would lick those eyebrows, I swear.”
Random Notebook Dump: Hormones seemed to be raging before the set even started last night. The most uncomfortable displays of PDA at a show that I've seen in a long time.