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Concert Review: KENDRICK LAMAR – T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

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97pts

Price Range : $69 - 300

Concert Date: September 9, 2022 Location: T-Mobile Arena - Las Vegas, Nevada

He appears alone at the piano on the gargantuan, mostly bare stage, hitting spare chords on the keys. It’s just Kendrick Lamar sitting with his demons, confronting his inner voices–with his alter ego puppet doll sitting atop the piano watching expressionless. It’s not easy being rap’s savior. “I grieve different!!” he exclaims after he gets up, standing solo behind a bare mic under the glare of a white spotlight. 

A dance ensemble that’s a contemporary Alvin Ailey, evoking Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring ballet choreography at one point while staying true to classic African-American step moves, brings both a sense of theater and historical context to the event. The voiceover of a therapist who sounds very much like Helen Mirren is the thread that moves us along this psycho-therapeutic journey. Minimalist use of videos flash on the video screens–adding textures while putting the focus purely on the performer. What this concert is, is a swirl of jagged and pounding beats, exhilarating musicality that’s not just hip-hop but modern jazz, R&B slo-jams and funk and industrial-electronic, a mind-boggling display of lyrical recall and poetry–this is an epic battle of the inner soul laid bare before us. It’s pure genius.

Lamar is still out to prove he’s the illest, rawest rapper alive who isn’t Nas with songs like “Backstreet Freestyle,” “DNA” and “m.A.A.d. City” which are part of the setlist from albums outside of his latest, Mr. Morale, but what’s characteristic of his version of frontin’ is that he insists on going against the stereotype, persistently rejecting materialism and satirically skewering sexism. “I’m holdin’ my scrotum and posin’/Damn, I got bitches, wifey, girlfriend and mistress/All my life I want money and power” goes a stanza in “Backstreet Freestyle.” With the iconic track “HUMBLE” from DAMN., he’s explicit: “Bitch, sit down/Be humble.”

Ever the controversial iconoclast, a consistent theme of the show, visually and lyrically, seems to mock the mind control aspects of the Covid epidemic response, and there are many lyrical references to wearing a mask–which serves as a metaphor for the falsities of his persona he progressively un-peels as the show progresses as well as an on-the-nose reference. Perversely, he performs his most iconic song “Alright” from How to Pimp a Butterfly immediately after he gets a Covid-testing prodding from four men wearing white hazmat suits. If this pisses you off, Kendrick Lamar doesn’t give a fuck.   

Lamar goes full, brutal confessional mode in “Worldwide Steppers,” giving nod to Eckhart Tolle for his spiritual evolution and self-ownership: “My genetic build can build multi-universes, the man of God”… “Ask Whitney [his wife] about my lust addiction/Text messaging bitches got my thumbs hurt”… “Asked God to speak through me, that’s what you hearin’ now/The voice of yours truly.” He confronts fatherlessness and being a father in “Father Time.” He’s serious about devotion to God in “Purple Hearts”: “Shut the fuck up when you hear love talking.” He confronts alcoholism in “Swimming Pools.” But it is in “Die Hard” where he lays his vulnerability fully bare: “I hope I’m not too late to set my demons straight… I hope you see the God in me… Can I open up? Is it safe or not?… If I told you who I am, would you use it against me? Right or wrong, no stone, just love to send me.”

“I hope you find some peace of mind in this lifetime” the song “United in Grief” begins, which played at the top of this extraordinary show. Don’t rest assured by the end of the show, however: Kendrick Lamar is not about easy resolutions. Peace of mind is the last thing we arrive at by the time the artist sinks beneath the stage for his exit and lights out. We are astounded yet profoundly uneasy from what we have just witnessed. But we also know: we gon’ be alright. 

 

September 11, 2022

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