Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. tour made its way to Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 19 at the Wells Fargo Center with opening acts by D.R.A.M and Travis Scott. It was a first for both of us. This was Kendrick’s first headlining arena tour and my first time watching him perform live. The venue was packed as expected but even so, the staff did well keeping things organized. Although the area was swarming with fellow concert-goers it took me about 20 minutes to claim my ticket from the box office, get into the venue and get to my seat. Impressive.
The show started at 7:30 PM sharp as promised with D.R.A.M. as the first opening act. He opened the show with great enthusiasm and carried his set with spirited personality. The hip-hop/R&B crooner performed a few of his most popular songs “Cha Cha”, “Cash Machine” and crowd favorite “Brocolli”. The artist gave the crowd an energetic performance accompanied by occasional snippets of his vocal capability. D.R.A.M.’s playful set would be a stark contrast for the dark Travis Scott performance that followed.
I won’t lie to you. I primarily purchased my ticket to see Kendrick because I am inspired and fascinated by his artistry. However, after reading that Travis Scott plead guilty for inciting a stampede at Lollapalooza in 2015 and was arrested this year for inciting a riot during his own Bird’s Eye Tour, I was anxious to see how rowdy his shows could get. All those things considered I am also a fan of his music.
After a brief intermission, Travis appeared on the stage smoking a blunt in front of a red tinted screen. The screen appeared to reflect his image with a special smoke effect. Scott’s connection with the crowd was commendable. During his set, he asked the lighting tech to turn on all the lights several times, perhaps so that he could see the faces in the crowd or maybe he just wanted to make sure no one was texting.
Either way, Scott called on fans early to stand on their chairs and told the Wells Fargo staff to allow members of the crowd to fill the aisles closest to the stage. When Scott noticed the staff keeping fans from coming up to the stage he let them know we were his “people” and “that’s not how we rock”. Prior to taking flight on an animatronic bird Scott called a fan on stage to take a stage dive which caused a lot of gasps/screams and oh my god’s in my section. Scott performed almost all the tracks from Birds in the Trap as well as “3500”, “Antidote”, “90210” (from his debut studio album Rodeo,) and his latest single, “Butterfly Effect”. Scott’s performance was energetic and attentive, giving me more reason to respect him not just as artist but a performer.
Participating in Travis Scott’s performance required a lot of energy but when the black tarp emblazoned with the ‘DAMN.’ logo was removed, any fatigue the audience might have been feeling dissipated. The audience was introduced to The Damn Legend of Kung Fu Kenny via large screen on stage. This visual first appeared during Kendrick’s Coachella set earlier this year. Drawing creative concepts from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, popular Blaxploitation film The Last Dragon, and Don Cheadle’s character, Kenny from Rush Hour 2.
After the visual introduction faded to black Kendrick appeared clad in a yellow track suit amid smoke and pyrotechnic bursts. Lamar opened the show with “ELEMENT.” which is the latest single to be released from DAMN. The crowd’s energy remained consistent throughout the show and Kendrick engaged with us when he could. This was the time Lamar has been in Philadelphia since he performed at the Trocadero Theatre in 2015 and he let the audience know it had been too long.
Check out Kendrick performing “Swimming pools” from his debut album good kid m.A.A.d. city below.
Other reviewers have called the performance minimal in style and I understand why one would make that claim. At times, there was a female dancer on stage while Kendrick performed and throughout the show there were what appeared to be martial artists displaying their skills. Kendrick also appeared in the middle of the arena atop a stage draped in lights allowing other sections of the audience to see him in closer range. The performance highlight was when Kendrick appeared to be horizontally suspended in the air by a single arm of someone below him. When your lyrics are powerful and stage presence is well respected putting on a great show doesn’t always mean more extras. Lamar’s performance was interesting proving sometimes less really is more. However, if you are familiar with Kendrick’s work you know even subtleties have deeper meaning.
I am now 4 days removed from the show and I am still thinking/discovering different things about the performance that relate to Lamar’s other bodies of work. For example, the cover of Kendrick’s fifth mixtape Overly Dedicated, showcased photos of deceased artists which also included Bruce Lee. I missed the Game of Death and The Last Dragon references during the show because I never watched either film. (Sorry, I’m a late bloomer.) Even if you aren’t familiar with these films, the DAMN. tour leaves a lasting impression. If you get a chance to attend I highly recommend doing so. You can purchase tickets here.