Kendrick Lamar, Hydro, Glasgow ****
A hooded figure holding a ventriloquist’s dummy, a ghost light over a piano, a troupe of dancers engaged in impressionistic choreography, Dame Helen Mirren’s voice opining “you've been in your comfort zone for 1,855 days"…Kendrick Lamar’s Big Steppers tour is not your standard hip-hop bluster.
But Lamar is not your standard rapper. More enigmatic than egotistical, the LA-based performer has conceived an arena-level show of theatrical minimalism, angular movement and rhythmic dynamism around the thoughtful material from his latest album, Mr Morales & the Big Steppers, which satisfied his amped-up audience without ever threatening to break into a party.
Perhaps it was Dame Helen’s role as disembodied therapist, the vast stage and runway through the crowd with nothing on it (his excellent live band were sequestered in an orchestra pit to one side), the stark monochrome colour palette, the lack of typical engagement with the sparingly used dancers, or just Lamar’s stillness, but there was something quite bleak and solitary about his occupation of the stage. At one point, he delivered a rap slumped in a chair; later, he lay on a bed, staring upwards into space.
He was joined by a solo dancer for an odd pas de deux during B****, Don’t Kill My Vibe; later, his support acts Tanna Leone and Baby Keem made separate cameos in almost antagonistic roles. In one of the most intriguing tableaux, jumpsuited figures contained him in an isolation tent for his mock Covid test. But that’s okay because “we gonna be alright”. Calm assurance rather than busy bounce.
The soundtrack ranged from dramatic strings to queasy bass rumble, from fidgety beats to sci-fi arpeggios, from straight funk to desolate soul, more than enough to engage and energise the crowd who lustily played their part during Backseat Freestyle and King Kunta, old favourites scattered through a new rap landscape with many a curious moment and never a dull one.