On a dark day for music in Detroit following the death of Chris Cornell, Chance the Rapper brought the light and a joyous air of celebration at his sold-out concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills Thursday night.
Not that there was a whole lot of crossover between the Gen X-ers mourning the loss of the Soundgarden singer and the millennials who packed the Palace to the rafters to see the 24-year-old Chicago rapper. (“’90s babies make some noise!” Chance shouted at one point, while the few non-‘90s babies in the crowd ducked for cover.) But both artists are a part of the same music community, and there was catharsis in knowing that music keeps moving forward, day after day after day, no matter what happens. The show, as they say, must go on.
And the show went on for Chance, the uplifting, gospel-tinged rapper who played up his underdog roots – at times a bit heavy-handedly – throughout his 80-minute show.
“I’m not used to this arena (thing), this is not what I do,” Chance told the crowd several songs into his set, listing off previous Detroit stops at the Shelter, the Fillmore and the Fox Theatre.
Still, he wanted to prove he had arena-level chops. “I wanna shake this (place),” he said. “I wanna have a show.”
He got his wish, and the Palace certainly felt like it was shaking when “No Problem” rang out through the building. Fans who packed the general admission floor bounced in unison, arms in the air, and the crowd on both levels gave Chance his big-time arena rock moment.
The slender rapper, his signature 3 cap sitting atop his head, bounced and bobbed across the Palace stage, never staying in one place for more than a second or two. He was a giddy ball of energy, clearly excited about the stage he’s at in his career, and his three-piece Social Experiment backing band brought vibrant life to the tracks from last year’s “Coloring Book” that filled out most of the set. (He was also joined intermittently by a vocal quartet.)
A pair of Yeezy sneakers on his feet, Chance paid tribute to his hero Kanye West with a three-song suite in the front half of the evening, starting with his own interpretation of “Waves,” rolling into “Father Stretch My Hands” and finishing with “Ultralight Beam,” the opening track from last year’s “The Life of Pablo” album which was nearly stolen by Chance’s “Ultralight” verse. For that song, Chance was lifted several feet into the air on a riser, though his words are so inspiring he almost didn’t need the boost.
The show represented a seismic leap from last year’s Fox Theatre show, where he shared the stage with a crew of puppets that gave the proceedings the feel of a children’s variety show. At the Palace, the puppets were replaced with pyro, big loud bursts of fire and flames befitting a big league rock show. Confetti canons filled the air with snowstorms of paper debris during “No Problem” and “Blessings,” which closed the show, and crackles of pyro lit up in the air during “Waves.”
Befitting the “Coloring Book” theme, the production was playful and colorful, with swirls of peppermint candy spinning on a backing video screen during “Sunday Candy” and a cartoon campfire setting the scene during “Summer Friends.” Hues of red and blue and purple were used at various points to convey different moods.
Sometimes his childish impulses got the better of him, as when he introduced himself to the crowd multiple times and meekly requested the crowd please come back and see him the next time he plays. He sold out the Palace, he doesn’t need to play coy anymore, and his multiple mentions of getting ready “to start the show,” even more than halfway through the night, had the reverse intent and came off as false humility.
The pacing and continuity of the show was a bit rocky; the energy would rise and fall rapidly, and wouldn’t sustain over a period of time. But those issues will work themselves out over time. Chance has been rocking festival crowds for years, so he’s used to playing to big crowds, but the discipline is in finding a way to build a full, contained show outside of that setting. He’s getting there, and he’ll be all the way there before long.
Near the close of the night, a long catwalk in the middle of the arena lowered from the ceiling and Chance stepped onto it, walking over the crowd to the rear of the arena and back. Another artist would have turned it into a grand stunt. But Chance was really just saying hello, and thanking fans for coming out to the show.
He’s that kind of artist, one who has put so much good out into the world that he is now getting it all back in return. His show was proof that even on the darkest of days, the light can still win.