DALLAS At his best, Drake is like that quiet kid in school, the one who keeps to himself, but who can be counted on to host a blow-out rager every now and then.
At his worst, Drake is the ingratiating, insistent kid, the one who wedges himself into social settings, making everyone slightly uncomfortable, looking for an exit.
Both sides of Drake’s contradictory personality were on full display Sunday night, as his oddly titled “Do You Want a Tour?” tour, supporting his latest LP, Nothing Was the Same, stopped at American Airlines Center.
While the Canadian native, born Aubrey Graham, has only refined his sense of showmanship over the last three years and multiple stops in the DFW market, he hasn’t yet figured out how to make what is transfixing on record equally as hypnotic in concert.
And yet, there were moments Sunday, during Drake’s 90-minute set, which stretched past midnight, where the show was as visually satisfying as it was emotionally — introversion made extroversion, feelings made tangible in chrome, denim and fire.
The staging was declamatory — here I am; take me seriously — and competitive, a shrewd move in a season full of hotly anticipated hip-hop shows. With a curved LED screen behind him and his scarcely visible backing trio, and a pair of circles embedded with smaller screens dominating the middle of the stage, the emphasis was upon conveying Drake’s emotional state visually (and often, with some combination of dry ice, fireworks and hydraulics).
It was an effective way to expand upon the often intimate nature of the 27-year-old’s studio work, making bittersweet cuts like Hold On, We’re Going Home, Crew Love or Worst Behavior pack a profound punch.
But Drake wasn’t much interested in navelgazing, and preferred to lead the raucous, ready audience on a tour of his catalog’s feel-good material, ranging from Headlines to the climactic medley of F— Problems, The Motto and HYFR.
His exuberance, and willingness to indulge in guests (ranging from the surprise appearance of New Orleans’ own Juvenile, who roared through Back That Azz Up, to opener Future, to a young woman who’d flown from Australia to Dallas for the show), robbed the evening of some of its natural momentum.
The biggest lull came late in the evening, when, in an admittedly dazzling setpiece, Drake ascended above the crowd, on an enormous platform that took him several dozen feet above the AAC floor.
He then spent upwards of 15 minutes singling out various fans in all corners of the arena, waving, pointing out clothing and signs, and verbally gladhanding everyone.
Endearing — and, by its conclusion, exasperating. The move tipped over from savvy to desperate the longer it went on, and underlined why a little interaction goes a long way. Charisma is a key ingredient for pop stardom, and Drake has it in ample supply.
However, the show would have been better served if he’d spent more time ruthlessly mining the seam between merriment and melancholy, and less making sure every last person was having the time of their lives.
The tension inherent in Drake’s music between the interior and the exterior is a big reason why he’s one of hip-hop (and pop music’s) more compelling figures at the moment.
Once he finds a way to reconcile the dueling natures of his inner child — to blend the best of both sides into a cohesive whole — he’ll be unstoppable.
The evening began with a trio of performances, with two of the three standing out. Party Next Door’s opening 15 minutes scarcely registered, while Future’s equally brief set built an impressive head of steam only to end.
Miguel, another buzzy R&B upstart, made the most of his 45 minutes, confidently rocking a fringed leather jacket (complete with matching mic stand) and delivering comical one-liners like “I’m like an auto-pilot wingman. All you’ve gotta do is get her in the car and press play.” He hasn’t quite grown into arenas yet, but the singer-songwriter has ambition and panache to burn, so it won’t be long before he’s headlining spaces like these on his own.