The ticket said Meek Mill. Two songs in, the stage screen showed Tupac. On screen, Tupac explained in an interview how he had no police record until he made a record, while recounting being behind bars as his music video debuted on MTV. Given Mill's own lengthy, tangled, legal woes — and legions of supportive fans who sold out Revention Music Center last night for an early stop of his Motivation Tour — it's an earnest comparison to make.
"You know I had a lot of people stand on my side and rock with me. If you screamed 'Free Meek Mill' when I was incarcerated make some noise for yourselves," Mill candidly told the roaring crowd.
Mill set a victorious tone for the night opening with "Dreams and Nightmares" and a smile as wide as the Katy Freeway. Accompanied by images of Philadelphia, his hometown, he blazed through the number, ready to honor his city, tell his story, and bask in the glory of returning to the stage. He commanded "Uptown Vibes," a party track (perfect for a Saturday night) from his latest effort Championships, with a centered swagger. Most phones were in the air to capture "The Game," during which Mill was surprisingly loose and vulnerable.
An explosive performance of "Litty" tested Revention's limits. With its dizzying light display, thumping bass lines, and packed to the brim house floor, Mill could have relocated to a larger venue. However, when he launched into "House Party," the sardined floor and its abandoned sense of personal space was perfect. The crowd danced away like they were at, well, a house party.
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The show slid into a subtle structure as it navigated into a more relaxed R&B string of songs including "Almost Slipped," "Fall Thru," and "24/7," a Championships standout featuring Ella Mai and a sample of Beyoncè's 2003 cut "Me, Myself, & I." A rhythm section, or at least a drummer, would have polished out this portion of the show nicely, giving it the breathing room it was craving. But like at most rap shows, a DJ on an elevated platform with prerecorded tracks and siren sounds will have to do.
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Mill later segued into a more somber moment of the night, holding an impromptu vigil for his, and the audience's, lost loved ones. The crowd held lighters and cell phone flashlights in the air as images of Martin Luther King Jr. draped the stage screen for "What's Free," a politically charged record from Championships. "100 Summers" followed, continuing the memorial by paying homage to the late Mac Miller and XXXTentacion.
At the night's end, Mill reprised "Dreams and Nightmares" with its Philly-centric visuals. He handed over all vocal duties to the audience, and they hollered every lyric to him. As he paced the stage, soaking in the night's final moments, Meek Mill's Philadelphia had become a state of mind: a symbol of community for his fans, their unwavering support for his life and work, and their willingness to carry his torch outside of the Philadelphia city limits.