Report: Kendrick Lamar, Brisbane 2012Kendrick Lamar The Hi-Fi, Brisbane Wednesday 19 December 2012 The last time I witnessed The Hi-Fi this packed was for an Odd Future show in early 2011. But that was a very different environment, full of people standing around looking at each other, wondering how they were supposed to act towards a bunch of youngsters flipping the bird and engaging in ribald sailor talk.
Tonight it’s Kendrick Lamar, and you feel that this is the real deal. Odd Future are from Los Angeles, but they’re arguably not much more than a bunch of middle-class Washington-Crenshaw misfits with a firm grasp on social media. Lamar is from LA too, but his language and aggression are real, as is an uncommon humanity – all of which were forged on the mean streets of Compton, where life for young black men can often be shockingly cheap.
Not that everybody seems to get that. There are people around us tonight who still think ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ is a drinking song, and others who continue to interpret the infamously disputed hook on ‘A.D.H.D.’ as saying “fuck thought” and not “fuck that”, as if in these fast-living, pill-popping times it’s inconceivable for a rap artist to consider a moderated way of life. As if to underline the literal interpretations, Lamar’s opening invitation for everybody to party with him after the show is answered from behind us with a distressed, “I can’t meet Kendrick sobbeeer!!”
It’s a crazy crowd—a clash of loose-hipped indie kids and rolling hip-hoppers, inebriated arrogance butting up against bald-faced agro—and Lamar’s arrival is thankfully timed to diffuse a fight that’s set to take place about a metre from where we’re standing. The energy in the venue is phenomenal, but it’s not always positive, and there are times when the batshit nature of the people around us—the beer being sprinkled about, the elbows in the face, the false apologies—begins to obfuscate your enjoyment of the spectacle.
Alone up on the Hi-Fi’s stage with just a DJ and manager for company, Lamar is certainly enjoying himself. He arrives to the strains of ‘Fuck Your Ethnicity’’s minor-keyed piano hook wearing a hooded combat jacket, swaggering about the stage before launching into ‘Hol’ Up’ and encouraging the audience into an epic call-and-response. The pro forma is thus established for the first half of the night as the rapper generously delves into last year’s Section.80, getting the crowd to shout great swathes of lyrics back at him. The album’s wealth of vertiginous vocal hooks means it’s custom built for the job – particularly cuts such as ‘Tammy’s Song’ and ‘The Spiteful Chant’, which precipitates the respective bizarre scenes of white people singing, “Fuck them other niggers / ‘cause I ride for my nigger” and girls screaming, “I’m going big! Suck my dick!”
When Lamar raps it’s with an unexpected throatiness that projects well but tends to take away from the double-timed lyrical intricacies he’s become known for. Combined with long periods of respectful talk between tracks, it gives the impression of a man who’s managing his vocal cords after playing three shows in three different countries in the last three days. Such suspicions are hardly eased when he barely clocks an hour onstage.
Still, that’s enough time to launch into a huge second half performance which focuses almost exclusively on this year’s major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d. city. It’s an opportunity for Lamar to dial down the audience participation and ramp up the pure energy as he dispenses propulsive takes on both ‘Money Trees’ and ‘Backseat Freestyle’. The second track in particular is phenomenal—perhaps the moment of the night—as Hit-Boy’s chain gang beat sends the audience into paroxysms of ecstasy.
‘Bitch, Dant Kill My Vibe’, ‘Poetic Justice’, ‘The Recipe’ and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ all follow in short order. A dude nearby stands on one of the dry bars to better enjoy ‘Swimming Pools’’ massive horn stabs, and is soon being hustled past me by security. Lamar finishes with a superb a capella, before vacating the stage to prepare for what will be the weirdest pair of encores I’ve witnessed in a long time.
The first reappearance is straightforward enough, although an abbreviated version of ‘Good Kid’ simply stirs up the sweaty broth a little more. Then, things really get strange. The house lights come up and the Hi-Fi’s rarely used curtains swing into the place. Glances of “WTF? That’s it?!” are exchanged around us.
Well, no, as it turns out. This crowd isn’t going anywhere and the jazzy go-the-fuck-home house music is soon being drowned out by a long slow chant of “Kennnnndrick! Kennnnndrick!” Maybe it was planned, or maybe it’s a quickly formulated circuit breaker to an impending riot, but suddenly the curtain rustles and like magic Lamar’s back, pumping his t-shirt and smiling past an index finger designed to calm a venue now going berserk. The lights dip again and slice and dice versions of breakthrough single ‘Hiiipower’ and Section.80 centrepiece ‘Ronald Regan Era’ are quickly dispensed.
Finally, Lamar promises that “no matter how big I get, I’ll be back in this motherfucker”. He asks everyone not to drink and drive and then he’s gone. I look at my watch and can’t believe how early it is, but then I’m not sure we could survive much longer amongst such a bunch of left-handed wongos.
We file out of The Hi-Fi stinking of spilt beer. There are spots of blood on the floor and numerous signs of fresh damage to the venue’s salubrious fit-out (Kendrick may not be back in this motherfucker, exactly); outside, a bunch of dudes scream before burning off in a shitty people mover, most likely drink driving. At the start of his final encore Lamar had talked about it being more important to touch the lives of people in the audience than to simply perform for them, but you wonder how far his relatively refined concerns translate in a reductive rap era where every white artist is the next Eminem and every Compton spitter a Dre protégé. Still, if most of the people at The Hi-Fi tonight were interested in simply getting drunk and hollering themselves hoarse, Lamar delivered there too.
Matt Shea (@mrmatches)