As the lights suddenly dim, the crowd at the SSE Hydro releases its usual roar of anticipation – yet there is an odd restraint to it; an uncertainty which speaks through the cheers. Even when Lamar finally makes his appearance, marking his first performance in Glasgow since 2013, the audience seems unusually reserved, as if they’re perhaps sceptical that the figure bouncing around on stage is really Kendrick Lamar – a fact which doesn’t go unnoticed by the rapper who jokingly asks mid-song: “is anyone alive in here?” However, by the time he breaks into fan-favourite “King Kunta”, nobody can sit down, nobody can stay silent, and nobody can deny what he later asserts: “I think we’re gonna have a good motherf*ckin’ time tonight.”Certainly, despite the thoughtful, often sombre tone of his music, Lamar’s performance is characterised by a sense of playfulness – seen most distinctly in the short clips which punctuate the show featuring Lamar in the persona of “Kung-Fu Kenny” in a pastiche of classic kung-fu B-movies. However, the show never relies too heavily on these theatrics. There are some infrequent stage stunts – one such spectacle features Lamar performing “LUST” as a cage rises to encircle him – but Lamar’s performance is otherwise surprisingly understated. The stage is narrow and minimalist, the band is sparsely lit, but through sheer energy and lyricism Lamar is able to keep the crowd invested for the full hour and a half.
After flying through several tracks from his latest album “DAMN” (as well as a couple of his many featured guest verses) Lamar presents a challenge to the audience to prove their credentials as “day-one fans” before performing his first major single “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. It’s Lamar himself, however, who seems determined to prove his loyalty to his roots, running through several tracks throughout the night from his previous albums “good kid, m.A.A.d city”, “To Pimp a Butterfly” and even “untitled unmastered” (although somewhat disappointingly not a single one from his debut album “Section.80”). At one point, he pauses to thank the audience for their continued support throughout his career and becomes visibly moved when the audience responds with cries of unfettered adoration, declaring: “this is family, right here.”
Indeed, it’s this genuine connection to his fan-family – a connection Lamar has maintained throughout his career – that becomes the most striking feature of the show. Halfway through his first performance of his hit single “HUMBLE”, Lamar stops and lets the audience carry the rest of the song which – other than some alcohol-induced syncopation at points – they perform flawlessly.
Perhaps his only misstep throughout the night is his decision to perform “GOD” – one of his weaker songs – for the encore when that space could have been dedicated to career highlights such as “The Blacker the Berry” or “A.D.H.D.” However, as reflected in the stunned pauses I receive from some audience members when I ask them for any criticisms afterwards, there’s little point in trying to pick holes in such an electrifying performance – and if the drunken recitals of “HUMBLE” that echo through the night on the way home is anything to go by, it did exactly what it wanted to do.