Started From the Bottom

Live Shots

'I been waiting for this motherfucker the entire tour!" a more than jovial Drake announced to a near-capacity Toyota Center crowd last Wednesday night. "Everybody knows Drizzy Drake was born here in Houston."

He doesn't attempt to keep his distance from fans. Instead, he does that childlike rap maneuver every boy makes when he feels like he's said the most incredible thing ever — he bounces. All over the place. Drake by and large believes in every word that leaves his mouth, a live-wire version of jazz hands that by all accounts makes him perform like the biggest star in the world.

When it comes to radio's current standards, no one in rap is at his perch. There's just Drake stroking a magnificent owl and rattling off hit after hit, such as when his tour DJ abruptly ran through what seemed like an endless array of Drake songs and features from 2009's "Successful" to 2011's "Take Care." Rap has only one real caretaker of the Billboard charts, whether it be Top 40 or those niche R&B/Rap ones, and his name is Aubrey Graham.

Inside Toyota Center, all of that was on display and then some. In the background stood a large video board, at times playing different scenes and splicing in moments of the live show all at once. It wasn't a full-blown distraction, but watching that thing while hearing the car-door chime of "Connect" just seemed even better.

The "Would You Like a Tour" premise centered mostly around the release of his junior album, September's Nothing Was the Same, and for a good while it felt as if we would run through the entire album in succession. "Tuscan Leather" clanged out of the gate, boastful and broad while sandwiching in a coda from Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" in between performances of Take Care's "Headlines" and "The Crew." That's the moment when you realize Drake is in full command, every awkward dance move to a slow jam segueing into another big number.

No other rapper at the moment has a keener sense of when he's actually trolling people, and on this particular night, going after a stagehand who didn't necessarily have the show's tech aspects quite cold seemed fitting. "We doing this for Houston, my shit's gotta sound right," he told him, as cold and convincing as a Memphis pimp.

Though I suppose imagining Drake as a pimp in any form would lead to hypothetical questions like "Did the John respect you? I know he respected you..." Once that got situated, the crowd immediately got pulled into the jutting section of NWTS where R&B rules supreme, "Wu-Tang Forever" oozing into "Own It" and a small offering of "Connect," before Drake realized — party first.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Next came a rapid-fire succession of "Pop That," "No Lies," "No New Friends" and a more-than-engaging performance of his summer addition to Atlanta trap-rap group Migos's "Versace" record. This was Drake's kingdom, a pyrotechnic, elevated setpiece playground that connected with fans and made those who hate the man grit their teeth even more. He hit all his cues, and even if his singing may remind you of Aziz Ansari making fun of R. Kelly, Drake still commanded eyes and attention.

Which made the night's close seem fitting. For all his talk of Houston, Drake — maybe more so than any of his contemporaries who have funneled Houston's screwed-up sound into their own coffers — gets it about this city. So after the smoke and bang and giant pomp of "Started From the Bottom," he turned the lights down and asked the crowd to regale him by reciting 2009's "November 18th." His inaugural Warehouse Live performance played onscreen behind him and, in some sort of eerie home-movie vibe, it felt as if we were right back inside that ballroom, witnessing a future star.

Inquiring Minds

Internet Protocol
Lauren Mayberry, singer of UK buzz band Chvrches, has learned a lot this year.

Neph Basedow

'The past year has been quite a change for us," says Chvrches front woman Lauren Mayberry during a recent phone interview.

In the past year alone, the Glasgow-based trio have become key players on the electro-pop scene. They've toured with Depeche Mode, sold out headlining tours across the world and earned a SXSW award for the best-developing non-U.S. band in March.

Much of Chvrches' popularity was achieved before their debut album, this year's The Bones of What You Believe, was even released: Last year, they released their first song, "Lies," solely online, which instantly gained attention. Their next single, the infectious "The Mother We Share," was one of summer's indie-pop anthems.

"The Internet has been important for us," Mayberry explains. "People first heard our single online and passed it on to their friends. We found our fan community online."

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