Say this much for Kendrick Lamar: The man knows how to make an entrance.
Saturday night brought Lamar to Raleigh's Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in the headline slot of Top Dawg Entertainment's "Championship Tour." And over the course of the evening, his opening acts had entered the stage in lots of quirky ways, including on a golf cart.
Lamar, however, simply appeared on a raised platform above the stage. And as he rapped in staccato tones — "I got loyalty, got royalty, inside my DNA," with the crowd shouting along — the screen behind him flashed the words "PULITZER KENNY."
Yeah, who needs the album-of-the-year Grammy anyway? Having won the latest Pulitzer Prize for music, Lamar is having quite a moment with this victory lap of a tour.
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In keeping with the show's "championship" theme, the stage setup had lots of sports-themed visuals and props, including championship-style banners hanging overhead. Faux bubblegum-card backdrops accompanied each opening act as they were summoned to the stage by an announcer.
"Now entering the field, Lance Skiiwalker ... Now stepping up to the plate, from Inglewood, Calif., Sir ... Now checking into the game, Jay Rock."
There was one no-show from the bill, SZA, who canceled because of swollen vocal cords. Skiiwalker's show-opening set, meanwhile, was notable for its brevity. He sang one song that lasted all of four minutes, the shortest set of any kind I've seen in 27 years of going to concerts at Walnut Creek.
AB-Soul came out with an archery bow, while Jay Rock worked the basketball angle. And after entering via the aforementioned golf cart, Schoolboy Q performed before a video montage of golf-cart rollover mishaps that were kind of painful to watch.
While the early acts had to perform to taped backup, a very sharp live band accompanied the closing acts. And the band needed to be sharp to be able to swing with Lamar's intricate arrangements, which involved a lot of turn-on-a-dime transitions.
The visuals were just as intricate — lasers, flames and a thick fog of smoke, with the rear-of-the-stage video screens glowing bright as a volcano. Images passed in a dizzying whirl, often too fast to take in.
"XXX" began with the lyrics "America, God bless you if it's good to ya," accompanied by a few seconds of a U.S. flag completely filling the screen. It was interesting to see that image just a few days after the NFL announced its new regulations intended to quash football players' national-anthem protests.
Lamar played the crowd as deftly as he led the band, coaching the audience to light their phones in unison. Even with the stage lights off, it was almost as bright as daylight. And, of course, everybody chipped in on the choruses.