“I only have one first show on my first-ever arena tour!” Chance The Rapper told the sold-out audience Monday at San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center. “Thank you.”
The name of this multi-Grammy Award-winning young music phenomenon’s 2017 concert trek is the “Be Encouraged Tour.” Accordingly, he offered plenty of encouragement - and thanks - to his listeners during a show that mixed gospel fervor, hip-hop swagger and arena spectacle in almost equal measure.
“It’s not often you get to meet people - for the first time - who are, literally, your foundation. So thank you, for holding me up,” Chance told the cheering audience near the conclusion of his too-short, 82-minute show.
His concert included 25 songs, although some were so truncated and fleeting that they seemed to end almost in the blinking of an eye.
His best songs Monday - including the sinewy “Everybody’s Something,” the gently hopeful “Same Drugs” and the buoyant “No Problem” - gave him ample time to build up the dynamic tension and release so essential to elevating a live performance.
Along the way, Chance also paid homage to one of his mentors, Kanye West, by performing his original version of “Waves” from West’s “The Life of Pablo” album, which Chance played a major role in helping to craft. (West ultimately dropped Chance’s version from the final album in favor of a different take on the song that features Chris Brown.)
To the delight of the nearly 9,900-strong crowd, Chance followed “Waves” with an audience sing-along on another “Pablo” song, “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.”
He followed that by performing his part from “Ultralight Beam,” giving the audience a “Pablo"-fueled musical trifecta. If Chance continues his artistic growth at his current rate, in a few years he may challenge fellow Chicagoan West for hip-hop’s crown.
Chance, whose real name is Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, turned 24 on April 16. Expectations for his tour are sky high, and for multiple reasons. But if the charismatic Chance had any opening-night nerves, he did a good job of disguising them.
In February, he won Grammys for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (for his third release, “Coloring Book”) and Best Rap Performance (for “No Problem,” which provided one of the highlights at Monday’s concert).
“Coloring Book,” incidentally, set a historical precedent. It is the first album to ever be nominated for a Grammy - let alone fuel any victories - that was available, free of charge, only via online streaming on SoundCloud.
Chance’s aversion to making his fans pay for his recorded music - and his disdain for record companies - was made clear in several instances Monday. Sometimes, he did so in the same breath as making declarations of his faith.
In “Blessings 1.” Chance’s second number of the night, he declared: I don’t make songs for free, I make ‘em for freedom.
At the end of “Blessings,” the projection of an animated wall on the video screen behind Chance crumbled. The allusion to the biblical tale of the walls of Jericho was further heightened by the prominent role in Chance’s band of trumpeter Nico Segal, who also goes by the name Donnie Trumpet.
In “No Problem,” whose lyrics target the creative timidity and money-lust endemic to some major record labels, Chance used the enormous video screen at the center of the stage to playfully but pointedly lampoon his targets.
The names and logos for faux record companies left no doubt who their intended targets were on the video screen - and in the song itself. “Phony” was substituted for Sony; “A Titanic” for Atlantic; “Villain” for Virgin; “Don’t Join” for Def Jam; “No Crown” for Motown; and the list went on.
When a rendering of three Grammy Awards also appeared on the screen, it was unclear whether Chance was patting himself on the back or poking fun at the Grammys, which were strongly criticized this year for the infrequency with which Album of the Year honors go to hip-hop artists. Given the way Chance likes to turn convention on its head, he may have been doing both at the same time.
His tour, which resumes Wednesday in Oakland, represents both an opportunity and a challenge for Chance, who repeatedly thanked the San Diego audience for its support.
Gone were the large, Muppet-like puppets that periodically joined him on stage when he performed last year at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at SDSU. In their place were three video screens, a climactic burst of confetti, a hydraulic lift, an elevated metal walkway that ran the length of the arena floor, and enough pyrotechnics to fuel a Kiss concert.
Chance received solid support from his well-oiled three-man band and four singers, whose exquisite harmonies at times brought to mind the jazzy gospel vocal group Take 6.
He is not a great singer, but the soulful emotion of Chance’s delivery was unmistakable. When he launched into some rapid-fire raps, his linguistic dexterity was impressive. Moreover, the sheer force of his personality enabled him to gain considerable traction even when doing a lesser song.
Alas, the sound quality Monday was too often muddled and greatly over-amplified - so much so that even some of Chance’s between-song comments were indecipherable, at least from this attendee’s vantage point.
The resulting din suggested Chance’s audio crew may need some time to make the transition into cavernous sports arenas like Valley View Casino Center.
But the sonic lapses didn’t deter the enthusiastic audience from singing along to many of Chance’s selections and cheering him on with well-deserved gusto. And his uplifting messages of hope and salvation had even more of an impact when juxtaposed with such gritty numbers as “Pusha Man” and “Paranoia.”
Those two songs appear back-to-back on Chance’s 2013 album, “Acid Rap.” On Monday, they almost book-ended the concert, with the Curtis Mayfield-referencing “Pusha Man” coming early in the show and “Paranoia” being performed as the second-to-last selection.
It was a savvy move to separate them.
The songs that came in between at Chance The Rapper’s tour-opening concert provided a vivid musical journey, courtesy of an ascendant hip-hop star who spends nearly as much time singing songs of praise and salvation as nearly any gospel-music veteran.
Cocoa Butter Kisses
All Night Jam
All We Got