Drake: Light Dreams & Nightmares @ London Hammersmith Apollo (Jan 10) | Live Review

Monday night Drake performed his final London night on his sold out, highly anticipated Light Dreams and Nightmares tour in west London’s Hammersmith Apollo. The tour, which ends in the UK this Friday 14th at Birmingham and carries on to mainland Europe for a further week, is the first time Drake has headlined in the UK, following cancelled dates in July 2010.

Since the initially planned dates last summer, Drake’s appeal has increased tenfold, meaning what would’ve been a few spot dates evolved into a European arm to his US tour. And demand for the shows have been rife; quick ticket sales has seen people scrambling for tickets and nose-bleed seats reportedly going for as much as £250 on ticket-selling sites. The crowd at Monday night’s show reflected this; the over-packed, heaving venue saw a mix of teeny-boppers, mainstream fans and hip hop fans, and the queue alone stretched over 50 yards from the venue.

While a fan of Drizzy since his first mixtape, Room For Improvement, I’ve always been dubious of his ability to perform as footage I’d seen previously left me with the impression that the rapper is totally awkward on-stage and lacks presence. I found this perception challenged at the show. While Toronto born rapper is far from a dynamic performer, there is evident growth from when he first found himself having to perform – an inevitability when one’s material garners attention for most artists. One thing that has stayed with him though, are his Mariah Carey-esque furious, osculating hand movements and rather bizarre (in fact, very bizarre) facial expressions.

Opening with “Forever”, Drake shot across the stage energetically, working hard to command the space. Unsurprisingly the show’s setlist, which was near-identical to his other shows, was comprised primarily of material from his debut album, Thank Me Later, but for fans who’ve followed him since So Far Gone and before, this was mildly disappointing and I’d hoped in vain that more mixtape material would feature in the show – after all, even his So Far Gone material is commercial now. He did, however, perform “Unstoppable”, “Best I Ever Had” and “Successful”.

The great stage production on “Fireworks”, which saw firework pyrotechnics shoot out on stage reignited my love for the Thank Me Later opener. On Saturday’s London show Florence Welsh of Florence & The Machine joined Drake onstage to vocal Alicia Keys’ chorus on the track, but this time around his vocally gifted backing singer subbed in.

One of my most favoured parts of the show was Drake’s performance of “Show Me A Good Time”. While he did nothing outstanding performance-wise during the cut, hearing the dance sample married with live instrumentation gave me a new appreciation for the song. All of the tracks were supported by his live band, including a phenomenal violinist.

As Drake sings on much of Thank Me Later, it was a given that the show would see him crooning on the mic. Unfortunately, Drake’s live vocal confirmed that his singing should probably be left to the studio. The R&B rapper butchered Bruno Mars’ chorus on B.o.B’s “Nothing On You”, and cleverly sought the assistance of his backing vocalist who harmonised with him on tracks including “Karaoke”.

Drake did his best to interact with the audience, delivering scripted spiels about how happy he is to be here and how the crowd was experiencing his light dreams and nightmares. Interestingly, his crowd felt like a pretty even split of males and females (perhaps leaning a little more to the female side), however, Drizzy hardly accounted for both audiences. As I’m not a big fan of the Lothario act usually assumed by performers with perceived sex appeal, I cringed my way through the rapper humping the floor and calling it his “Drizzy Three Stroke”, and his declaration that he needs a London girl to “fuck” in his last night, however, most of the other girls in the crowd lapped it up.

After performing “Miss Me”, Drake borrowed a move from Jay-Z‘s live shows, flipping the house lights on and peering into the audience, spending around ten minutes shouting out individuals he spotted. While it felt a little drawn out, it was a great way to connect with the crowd, and probably the most natural interaction he’d had all night. Closing the set with “Over”, also supported by pyrotechnics, Drake left a mainly amped and satisfied crowd.

I’ve been avoiding comparisons of the two like the plague, however, having seen the show’s opener J. Cole the night before at KoKo and watched him perform before Drake hit the stage, I couldn’t help sizing the rappers up against each other on their performance. The biggest difference between the two is the feeling that Cole performs because he wants to – and Drake because he needs to.

While I enjoyed Drake’s show, his performance felt a little contrived and over-rehearsed. I’m chalking this up to him still not being fully comfortable on-stage. He’s now grasped how to command the stage, now he needs to get to the point where he actually enjoys performing as much as his crowd enjoys seeing him.

Photography by Paul H courtesy of 4nB.