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Aubrey And The Three Migos Tour At Madison Square Garden, Friday, August 24th, 2018, Reviewed

Aubrey Drake Graham, better known by his middle name, is the single most popular artist of the 2010s with a mind boggling  six # 1s, 31 top  tens,  and 187 songs charting -earlier this year all 25 songs off his current album, Scorpio, went top 100. No one else is close. He is performing six area shows on his current Aubrey And The Three Migos tour, that’s the same as Paul McCartney nailed down last year, and while they haven’t all sold out, the first two at MSG at 17K a night sure did, and the first one was yesterday.

Which makes him a pro.

So why would a pro have his opening act Migos, who had just performed for an hour, come out after 45 minutes, and perform another half hour? Why would a pro skip on “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Over My Dead Body” and give us truncated takes on “Trumpets,” “The Motto,” and more? So Migos could waste out time with songs that belonged in their set, while Drake, a 31 year old man, took a fucking break?

It might sound hubristic to complain that a set with over forty songs doesn’t cover enough ground, but this is rap, which means it is verse and  hook and onto the next one way too often, and anyway, including the Migos added segment it was 90 minutes in length, so there was zero reason for the show to be simultaneously lazy and hard working.

This is something in Drake’s DNA, his need to excel can trip him up. Drake is huge, but he isn’t Chuck D, he isn’t Kanye West, he isn’t Jay Z, or Rakim, or Tupac, or Biggie. He isn’t one of the greats and one reason he isn’t is because his business acumen is stronger than his rap skills. He can write, he can rap, he is comfortable with r&b, and, in the unmistakable and uncomfortably self-obsessed world of rap, his solipsism can be unnervingly reality based (on the latest he even ‘fessed up to his secret son). AND I’M A FAN (the grade will prove it at the end), so why did the Migos superb take on “Stir Fry,” in the middle of Drake’s set, act as a rebuke to his obtuse piece of business.

The set was awesome, performed in the round (well, in the oblong), the lighting made the stage floor look like the sea and Drake walked across and through it, he had his eye on his audience and he performed from every corner of his stage. The man is a skilful rapper and a genius at a hookline, the audience loved it and kidnapped the hook time after time,  even if I’ve seen him many times and I’ve seen em a whole lot louder than that; when Drake went into his patented this may be the best audience of the tour right here, spiel, it is more blatantly bullshit than usual. And when he references performing at SOBs ten years ago, how he was thinking about it this morning, thinking about the first time he played at MSG, opening for Lil Wayne who was on his way to prison the next day, and then performs the same five songs he’s been playing all year, he crosses the line between artistic license and lying for effect.

But first, Migos. There is no better tag team rappers than Migos, three great performers who share a mic and trade vocals with power and ease, the sound was fine, and the Migos were all over their stuff.  You wanna know how bad Culture II was? They performed six off Culture and two off the 24 song, nearly two hour, Culture II– I get the streaming math but you are better off leaving some bread on the table then releasing an overlong snooze. The threesome started strong with oldie faves like 2013’s “Hannah Montana” and ended even better with a sweeping, “Bad and Boujee,” “Narcos,” and a riveting “Motorsport”. And still had “Versace” and “Stir Fry” for their Drake interruption. Drake was better.

And I will tell you why: from 2010’s Thank Me Later to 2017 More Life, he has been superb, only Kanye (808s And Heartbreak is Drake’s blueprint for emorap) has been more consistent.  More Life is the first stirrings of artistry that goes beyond pop hooks and heartbreaks, a genre bending world sound of unsurpassed greatness brought back to earth with Scorpio, followed quickly by Pusha T handing him his head in a rap war that Kanye bailed Drake out of (while undoubtedly setting him up for).

At MSG last night, Drake had us wait  an hour between sets hitting the stage at 927PM (no, just no) and performed the first three songs behind gauze netting, he wasted way too much time on lame ass left side versus right side fights for loudest (stuff he didn’t even remotely need), the performance was close but wasn’t perfect, he seemed to be missing a little bit of enthusiasm. If there was a band, I didn’t see it. The backing tapes for the rapping were more prevalent than usual. Oh, yeah, what the fuck was there a basketball throwing contest there for? Who were those people… ? and the flying car… what was with the flying car around the Garden, Drake didn’t even mention it?   Maybe I’m a little spoiled, but not only was the Weezy Drizzy tour much better, so was the Summer Sixteen Tour. In 2016, Drake schooled Future, in 2018, Migos showed Drake.

And still, the level of songs, hooks, wordplay, hit after hit after hit, was simply awe inspiring. It was a mess of a set and still great. “Mob Ties” near the top, “Jumperman” a little later, three quarters of the way through the evening he reeled off “Work,” “One Dance,” and “Hotline Bling”. HOTLINE BLING???? The rapping was sensational, the pacing exhausting from a distance, and the sheer wealth of top notch pop puts nearly every popster, a Taylor Swift for instance, back on their heels. And speaking of Swift, look at the way she pleases herself by playing an album no one gives a shit about,  and compare it to Drake’s intense user friendly mode of operation. And to top it off he brought out Tory Lanez as a guest. I adore Tory, and it was wonderful to see him on such a huge stage with his hit “Shooter”. At the end Drake said “New York City, I want you to make some noise for my motherfuckin brother from my hometown” So I guess that is one feud down.

Yeah, it wasn’t his best tour to date, yeah, it was a little slack, especially during a slow segment which had Drake admonishing the audience for sitting (hey, I thought we were the best). But really, it was a hella fun.

Grade: B+



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