KENDRICK LAMAR : GLASGOW HYDRO : 2 NOVEMBER 2022
Today was supposed to herald in a new series. However, in a what I am going to call a world first in blogging, JC, the lovely supremo behind the New Vinyl Villain and I have done what we are calling a mutual exchange of articles. So over at the New Vinyl Villain, you will find a piece penned by me all about one of the reasons why I stopped reading the NME and here instead of the new series you can read a fantastic review of the fantastic Kendrick Lamar from his gig in Glasgow last Wednesday night. You can click here to read my warblings on the NME should you want to.
So – here’s JC.
Mr Morale – Kendrick Lamar (2022, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’)
The first thing that strikes us, as myself and Mrs JC walk from the railway station to the venue, is that we are, by a long way, the two oldest people likely to be experiencing Kendrick Lamar. At least 90% of the 12,000-strong audience look aged between 14 and 25 – we feel like the grandparents who have made an error when pressing the confirm button with the ticket order.
But this turns out to be a very good, and indeed essential thing as the latest stop of the globe-trotting Big Steppers Tour 2022 turns out to rely on the energy, enthusiasm and participation of the crowd, particularly those who have snared the tickets for the standing area.
This was my first time seeing Kendrick Lamar on stage, being bitterly disappointed to have missed out on past tours from a combination of not getting tickets in time or being out of the country on holiday when he dropped by. There was a little bit of trepidation in that his latest album, ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’, is a tougher and less immediate listen than the previous records that had initially catapulted him to superstardom and then maintained his position as the best and most important contemporary hip-hop artist on the planet. There was also the fact that the tickets, at £90 plus fees, were the most expensive I had ever bought, and even then, these were far from the best seats in the house, albeit they did offer had a front row view from side-on.
I’ll cut the chase. Over the course of 100 minutes, during which 28 songs were aired, Kendrick Lamar delivered a show for the ages. A show. Not a gig, and certainly not a concert.
A show that had eleven dancers to help interpret the songs; two guest vocalists in Baby Keen and Tanna Leone who had opened up proceedings with short and entertaining sets of their own; a stage and lighting rig (with fire bursts) that was complex, bold and imaginative, and which enabled Kendrick to continually stay close to his adoring fans. Oh, and it also had Dame Helen Mirren (yes, THE Dame Helen Mirren) doing voice-overs, some of which were observations akin to those of Dr Melfi talking to Tony Soprano, while others were instructions, including the demand that Kendrick take a Covid test mid-show.
It might all sound a bit convoluted and bonkers, but believe me, it all made sense. It was helped by the pacing of the show. We had a deliberately slow start with songs from the latest album, in which Kendrick seemed to be questioning himself given how little has changed for the better in America and elsewhere in the five years since he last graced us with his presence. Bit-by-bit, he introduced the bangers, with some of his best-known and best-loved songs from ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, To ‘Pimp A Butterfly’, and ‘DAMN’, prompting mass sing-a-longs and dancing from the hyped-up standing audience, all of whom at some point would have found themselves a matter of yards from the main man, thanks to the stage design and his constant pacing up and down, barely pausing for breath.
After a jaw-dropping version of Alright, which addresses the post-pandemic world we find ourselves becoming accustomed to, he takes things right down again over the final eight songs, which are all either from the new album or are covers of songs by Baby Keem as part of a highly energetic mini-set in which Kendrick is more than happy to have the spotlight shine on someone else. Again, it makes sense given the final three songs and the actual conclusion of the show.
Alright – Kendrick Lamar (2015, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’)
There is the slow-paced and piano-driven Crown, during which Kendrick, seated at the instrument with a harsh spotlight shining on him, comes to the conclusion that he is incapable of pleasing everybody, which really is no surprise given the conflicting demands placed on him.
Crown – Kendrick Lamar (2022, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’)
It is followed up by the stomping and hypnotic ‘Mr.Morale’, which has the spoken intro of
‘It was one of the worst performances I have seen in my life. I couldn’t sleep last night because I felt this shit.’
There wasn’t anyone standing or sitting there at the Glasgow Hydro who would agree with such a sentiment, as we had all been fortunate enough to be in the presence of a genius. It was at this moment, I thought of the late Prince, and the reaction he always seemed to invoke from his fans whenever he took to the stage.
Finally, the evening ended with Savior, which, given all that had come beforehand, was inevitable. It opens up with Kendrick more or less demanding not to be placed on any pedestal as he is not our saviour, before he spits out a lyric that deals with so much of what has dominated the headlines of the past five years, – cancel culture, the nonsensical arguments over vaccinations, Black Lives Matter, the war in Ukraine and those who believe there is merit in alternate truths. He may not be our our great redeeemer, but he is, undoubtedly, someone who should be listened to, as he talks a great deal of sense.
Saviour – Kendrick Lamar (2022, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’)
He ends as he started, at the piano, which is lowered slowly below the stage with Kendrick’s final words being a promise – ‘I WILL be back”.
There is no curtain call, far less any suggestion of an encore. The house lights come up and 12,000 people take their leave, knowing they have been witness to something that will live with them for a long time. I’m willing to bet that everyone who went out into the cold and wet night air, was hoping Kendrick decides to make good on his farewell promise, and sooner rather than later.