Drake contemplates legend status at murky Palace show

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Drake is in the myth-making business; “Oh my God, if I die I’m a legend,” he repeats — as if he’s surprised to hear it himself — on the opening track of his latest release, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.”

Yet even legends make missteps, and Wednesday’s Jungle Tour stop at a sold-out Palace of Auburn Hills felt like a step sideways rather than a step forward for the 28-year-old Toronto rapper.

The show marked Drake’s third area concert in 18 months, following his show with Lil Wayne at DTE Energy Music Theatre last summer and his Would You Like a Tour? stop at the Palace in December 2013.

That previous Palace concert was Drake’s best, most-focused show yet: slick and confident yet hungry, with Drake still building himself up to that legend-level. Wednesday’s show, part of a short five-date run between his April Coachella appearance and next month’s Governor’s Ball performance, couldn’t get over its murky concept, which centered on a cheesy jungle-inspired set design that looked like the waiting area at a Rainforest Café.

The show started off strong, with Drake rattling off a series of bangers (“Trophies,” “We Made It”) that were brash and defiant. He was animated on stage, charging back and forth, jumping in place and throwing himself into his words. He believed in his lyrics rather than simply reciting them, and the connection could be felt in the audience. “This might be the one tonight, swear to God!” he said early on, one of many compliments he paid the young-skewing, pumped-up crowd.

A video wall behind him showed handsomely art-directed images that enhanced the material, from the snowy nature shots during “Headlines” to the footage of him partying with his squad during “Crew Love.” During “6 Man,” lyrics were spelled out on the screen, including the line “I’m a magician,” which felt cool and ominous.

But then the video wall opened up and the jungle set was wheeled forward and the show’s momentum got caught up in its fake vines and fog-spewing waterfall.

He was fine as long as he stayed out in front of the set; “Blessings,” “Yolo,” “Truffle Butter,” “6 God” and “Worst Behavior” were all given proper treatment, with Drake out in front of the greenery, living out the songs’ lyrics. But the jungle called to him, and soon he was on top of the set, standing inside of a cave-like structure, singing the words “I need some company” (during “Company,” one of many drab, same-y sounding tracks from “IYRTITL”) like he was scrawling in his diary. Drake is always in his feelings, but when did we get transported to Emo Island?

Next he was sitting at a campfire on the set — really — doing “Madonna,” the lyrics of which he switched to reference Rihanna. (Ever since that mini-makeout session between Drake and Madonna at Coachella, they haven’t really been on the same page.) It felt like a weird version of “Survivor’s” tribal council, with Drake getting sad and voting himself off the island.

The crowd was still on board, but after “Take Care” and “Hold On We’re Going Home,” Drake dismissed the slow material he had just ran through, saying, “that’s not what we’re here for.” Hey man, you were the one who was just standing on top of a waterfall of feelings, not us.

The 90-minute, 30-song set got back on track with “Know Yourself,” the instant Drake classic that includes the immortal line, “I was running through the 6 with my woes.” (In Drake’s world, “woes” are friends, but the line can also be read as an acknowledgment of his ever-present emotional baggage.) “Energy” followed (“got a lot of people trying to drain me of my energy,” he says) and a reprise of “Legend,” which he also used to open the show, closed the evening.

Drake’s “if I die I’m a legend” prophecy is true, and he’s clearly consumed with it enough to open and close his show with it. But immortality is a given in death; the key is to become a legend while you’re still alive. Drake’s not out of the jungle yet, but he’s on his way.