SARATOGA SPRINGS Three songs into his nearly 90-minute set at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Thursday night, Drake sauntered out to the end of the stage, basking in the applause, and announced that the only thing he had thought about all day was this show.
For the rest of the night, he proceeded to prove just that, hitting hard with each song he sang and barely pausing for breath in between. There was absolutely no signs of his brawl the previous night with Chris Brown in New York City (except for a slight aside about how he wasn’t having “the best day” during “Take Care”). Instead, the audience was treated to a rap star at the height of his game.
Taking the stage 10 minutes late, at 9:40, Drake immediately made up for it, launching into a perfunctory “Lord Knows” before kicking into bragging mode on “Underground King.” The packed house was on its feet from the get-go, shouting along to every word Drake spat into the mic.
His performance was made all the more powerful by his supporting players on live drums and guitar, both of whom made their presence known on “I’m on One” and the evening’s centerpiece ballad, “Trust Issues.” On the latter song, Drake turned in perhaps his most emotional performance yet, savoring each word as he half sang, half rapped his way through.
Other highlights included a collaboration with opener 2 Chainz on the savage “No Lie.” Chainz was the first of the openers to take the stage with Drake; throughout the evening he brought nearly every other opener up, including Meek Mill on two songs and special guest French Montana on a handful of songs late in the set.
Elsewhere, Drake got everyone’s blood boiling on the slow burn of “Marvin’s Room.” The aforementioned “Take Care” was another high point, and perhaps the most “fun” Drake — and indeed, the crowd — seemed to have all evening.
Before Drake tore up the stage, J. Cole helped set the mood with a more contemplative set than the acts that came before him. His melodic sound was greatly helped by an actual live band featuring guitars, drums and keyboard, which worked to great effect on first song “Dollar and a Dream” and the epic ballad “Nobody’s Perfect,” featuring an ably executed drum solo.
Waka Flocka Flame took a more theatrical approach than most of the other acts, running in and out of glowing green trash cans set up around the stage along with his large posse of backup performers. He wowed the audience with performances of “Bustin’ at 'Em,” “Fist Pump” and “I Don’t Really Care” that offered little in the way of nuance, but plenty of energy. At one point, he leapt into the crowd, with masses of people following him as if he were the Pied Piper.
The party started early (earlier than advertised, in fact, at 6:30) with Jitta on the Track, who performed a scant 10 minutes. Atlanta rising star 2 Chainz took the stage next as the amphitheater began filling up, tearing into songs from is mix tape, “T.R.U. Realigion” and the soon-to-be-released debut album “Based on a T.R.U. Story.” Before the crowd had a chance to catch its collective breath, Meek Mill was on stage, barking out “Dreamchasers.” His set also felt a bit short, but hit harder than the previous acts.