Deputy Editor-in-Chief Niamh finds herself mesmerised by Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the OVO Hydro.
It’s been over four years since I last saw Kendrick Lamar perform, and the circumstances couldn’t have been more different. In August 2018, aged 17 and beyond excited to be attending my first music festival without adult supervision, I joined the throng of intoxicated and rain-soaked teens to watch Lamar bring Leeds (I was 17, ok) to an electric finish. At the time, Lamar was concluding his UK DAMN tour, which was the last time he performed in the UK.
One similarity in my experience this time round was the rain-soaked aspect. As I made my way to the OVO Hydro on the evening of 2 November, Glasgow reliably delivered what I can only describe as a torrential downpour. Unlike my hair, my spirits were not dampened as I made my way to my seat. This was a first for me – I’ve never attended a concert seated, always opting to stand at arena tours or not attend at all, assuming (wrongly, as I now know) that the experience is just never quite the same. Another first – I was on my own. I’ve never attended a concert by myself, but the prospect of getting to see Kendrick perform again put to bed any reservations I had about the experience.
Lamar was supported by Tanna Leone and Baby Keem, the other two members of pgLang, a collective formed by Lamar and Dave Free. I have to admit to not recognising Tanna Leone, nor did the people seated around me, and subsequent digging revealed his debut album Sleepy Soldier only came out in April of this year. I did, thankfully, recognise Baby Keem, by virtue of his TikTok hit track Vent, and his feature on US TV show Euphoria’s soundtrack with trademark usa. Having known that Lamar had previously been supported by James Blake for his last appearance in Glasgow, I have to admit the choice of support this time round left me feeling a little flat – but that’s maybe a matter of personal taste.
Lamar’s set began with a mesmerising procession of dancers clad in monochromatic outfits of black and white, who positioned themselves on a double bed centre stage as Kendrick revealed himself, back to the audience, and began playing on the piano the introduction to United in Grief, the first track of his new album Mr Morale & The Big Steppers. The stripped back introduction had the audience completely captivated, a feeling which did not subdue as Lamar finished the track centre stage, puppet in hand rapping along with him.
The surrealism continued, as Helen Mirren introduced herself in an omnipotent, voice-of-God like fashion to inform us she would be narrating the evening. Lamar continued with hit singles from his newest album, moving to a fiery, pyrotechnic performance of N95, before slowing down to a performance of the more spoken word like track Worldwide Steppers.
The audience, myself included, truly exploded as Lamar transitioned from the pared back Worldwide Steppers to a frenetic performance to early hit Backseat Freestyle from the seminal good kid, m.A.A.d city album. We barely had time to catch our breath as Lamar broke out into a rendition of Humble, before descending into the stage along with his dancers and piano.
My personal favourite track from the newest album followed, Father Time, accompanied by hypnotic illustrations writhing across the black backdrop of the stage. The crowd reached a frenzied crescendo as Lamar flawlessly rapped classic m.A.A.d city, with the atmosphere only intensifying throughout a run of fan favourites; King Kunta, Loyalty, Swimming Pools, and Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe. The arena became a cacophony of hoarse voices screaming Lamar’s verses back to him. The cliched description of an “electric atmosphere” was truly, genuinely, fitting here.
The night took a slightly bizarre turn as Helen Mirren’s voice informed Kendrick (Mr. Morales as she referred to him) that he had become contaminated and must take a covid test. A transparent plastic cube descended over Lamar centre stage, as he was flanked by four of his dancers clad in PPE. Was I slightly confused? Maybe. Could I take my eyes off the spectacle? Absolutely not. The arena thrummed with what I can only describe as the sound of a helicopter taking off as Lamar broke into hit Alright. Baby Keem re-entered the stage to perform his hit Vent alongside Lamar in a high-energy performance that almost resembled a duel. Tanna Leone also made a reappearance to perform the penultimate track of the night, Mr. Morale, on which he features on the album, leaving the crowd enthralled as the arena glowed a deep red.
Lamar ended the evening with a mellower but no less magnetic performance of Saviour, before descending once more into the stage, declaring “Glasgow, I promise you I will be back.”
Positioned from my lofty balcony in the OVO Hydro I spent the night fixated upon Kendrick Lamar, as he delivered a performance that was as exceptional visually as it was auditorily. I was utterly immersed from start to finish in what was a sensory overload of magical lighting, mesmerising dancing, and timeless, powerful rapping. 17-year-old me would have turned her nose up at the prospect of not experiencing such a spectacle from the heart of a mosh pit, but 21-year-old me relished in the opportunity to absorb myself in every single aspect of the performance completely and utterly, without being doused in beer or elbowed in the face.
Maybe I’m getting old. Regardless, I certainly hope Lamar will keep his parting promise.