Nosebleed ticket prices may explain why the first of Drake’s three Irish concerts was not quite a sell-out.
But those who did pay up to €140 for their seats were rewarded with a hard-punching tour de force from the first true superstar of the streaming era.
The Assassination Vacation tour is a 100 kiloton celebration of hip hop’s imperial era. Drake shared the spotlight with a floating Ferrari– “yellow like Pikachu” as he pronounced – and invited a punter up to shoot hoops (with the carrot of a €20,000 cash price should he achieve the impossible and score from halfway).
However, the biggest special effect was the rapper himself, prowling the stage as if had something to prove. That Drake needs to establish his bona fides seem absurd considering he holds the record for most streamed song of all time in God’s Plan (1.2 billion Spotify plays and counting).
But his lyrics peel back the layers of an artist who has always felt an outsider, his hard-wired neuroticism stoked by celebrity.
Drake’s suspicion that fame is as much a cage as a passport to his fantasy life is accentuated by the new production. Emerging from behind a silk screen video projection, the 32-year-old paced the giant LED walkway, alone apart from his demons and the occasional column of dry ice. Dancers emerged as he performed a greatest hits medley and tiny drones conjured a starscape over his head during Elevate, one of several meditations on stardom and its complications (“There's no way that this is real, man, it can't be”)
Yet these were mere trappings and the most affecting segments found Drake rhyming solo, in front of full-ish house – sections of the upper seated tier had been curtained off – and sounding like the most conflicted a-lister on the planet.
His flow was rocket-fuelled and more than compensated for his sometimes cheesy crowd-pleasing. “For as long as you’ll have me I’ll keep coming back,” he declared early on, before twinkling smashes Hotline Bling and God’s Plan.
He no doubt says that to all his audiences. But the proclamation rang with sincerity – a reminder that, though Drake may be the master of rap operatics, it’s his facility for wearing his heart on his sleeve that really sets him apart.
Drake performs at 3Arena, Dublin, this Thursday and Friday.