Kendrick Lamar’s U.S. Tour Comes to a Cinematic Close with Fourth Straight Sold-Out Show at Crypto.com Arena

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Outside of the Crypto.com Arena on Saturday (Sept. 17), Los Angeles was in a frenzy. Bacon-wrapped hot dogs sizzled on grease-spattered portable grills, while a handful of street vendors eagerly flashed colorful Kendrick Lamar-themed bucket hats and t-shirts to whoever was willing to steal an unintentional glance. Crosswalks were in disarray, an outpouring of fans more consumed by their swelling anticipation for seeing Compton’s beloved on the last U.S. stop of his The Big Steppers Tour than the flashing orange stop signal.

Inside, the arena was a sea of black. While a Bad Bunny concert may boast loud getups of colorful patterns and barely-there bikini tops, mimicking the Puerto Rican star’s latest beach-themed offering, a pgLang endeavor encourages a far less vibrant palette: muted tones and minimal patterns, similar to those donned by its signees.

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With Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, his final album on former label home TDE, Lamar introduced more than the pgLang aesthetic. The album was a practice in vulnerability, revealing everything the rapper is and used to be through deeply introspective storytelling (reportedly narrated by longtime partner Whitney Alford), meant to resemble therapy sessions. To no surprise, Mr. Morale — with its themes of overcoming transphobia, sexual trauma and addiction — was met with discomfort and pushback from listeners, something the avant-garde rapper must have expected. But on Saturday, in front of twenty thousand longing fans, he was met with nothing but love.

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As the lights illuminating the arena extinguished abruptly, fans erupted into cheers as album opener “United in Grief” reverberated throughout the 20,000 bodies. The introductory track reiterates Lamar’s intention for his most revealing project to date: “I hope you find some peace of mind.”

A line of dancers were met with spotlights, donning two black suits for every white one. Anxious piano mingled with wailing strings, as the audience was brought to their feet by the fraternity marching stiffly across the catwalk to the main stage. The distance between each bouncing dancer was perfectly calculated, a testament to Lamar’s meticulous nature — even with the rapper himself still nowhere to be found — with the dancers never missing a beat, a glance or a step. The fervent fan reaction proved Lamar’s command of the audience even before materializing, with the subtlest of movements from dancers, down to the twist of a finger, enticing waves of spellbound cheers from the sea of onlookers.

Once the suit-wearing dancers arrived to the main stage, a single spotlight came to life in the left corner of the stage, revealing a stern Lamar, seated earnestly at an upright piano alongside his tour companion: a ventriloquist dummy of himself. His outfit, a TI$A-branded white suit dripping in pinkish-red graffiti honoring his native Compton, differed from getups worn on other legs of the tour, but the shimmering silver glove (a la Michael Jackson) remained the same.

Although his entire set carried themes of relinquishing ego, Lamar nevertheless budgeted time to receive the crowd’s never-ending praise, as he slowly glided down the catwalk, dummy in hand, standing still as a statue at a lone mic stand amidst a cloud of smoke. His motionlessness somehow provoked the crowd into louder cheers, as a “Kendrick” chant began to swell across the massive room.

Completely still, save his mouth and the hand that moves that of his doll, the pgLang mastermind delivered the song’s opening lines, performing bar for bar without a vocal track. It was a testament to the rapper’s endurance, carrying 20,000 fans on the strength of his conviction alone, a theme throughout the Mr. Morale spectacular.

Mr. Morale marks a shift from Lamar’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning album DAMN., which was revered in both intellectual and commercial spaces. Fox News soundbites were replaced by philosophical sermons from spiritual thinker Eckhart Tolle. Radio hits gave way to therapy-inspired dialogue between Lamar and his own demons. The 35-year-old rapper’s newfound evolution may have come at a commercial cost among casual listeners, but the devoted fans were buying every second of his 90-minute set on Saturday, treating both Lamar’s newest songs and classic hits with the same level of excitement and care.

From there, Lamar went back and forth between new and old, breaking into the pulsating “Worldwide Steppers” before celebrating a decade of “Backseat Freestyle,” the crowd erupting in repetitions of “Martin had a dream” as lights strobed throughout. After “Rich Spirit,” the debated hip-hop messiah toweled off in the darkness. As the lights came up, he hopped across the stage like a child with each piano key played over the speakers. “Mr. Morale, you’ve once again let your ego get the best of you,” warned Helen Mirren, the concert’s narrator — making for the perfect transition into “HUMBLE.”

As dancers encircled Lamar, some of their moves resembling divine nine step shows, Lamar descended for his one and only barely-there break of the show, thirty-minutes in, with an hour to go. He returned with a string of crowd-pleasers, including a theatrical medley of “King Kunta,” “LOYALTY,” “Swimming Pools. (Drank)” and finally, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” — as well as lyrically centered moments performing cuts like “LUST” and “Count Me Out,” complemented by shadow play and high-resolution visuals on screen.

While Lamar proved time and time again that he alone can keep the engagement of his fans, the unequivocal climax of his show arrived alongside the return of rap darling Baby Keem to the stage, who earlier opened for Lamar with an impressively developed set. Despite Los Angeles crowds being known as difficult — putting thousands in a room who have real or imagined connections to the entertainment industry doesn’t always make for ego-less enthusiasm — Lamar and Keem’s chemistry prevailed, resulting in self-forgetting bliss during their joint performance of “Family Ties.” Lamar may have even forgotten himself, succumbing to Keem’s youthful joy, flashing a rare smile and barring his more playful side to the audience.

Keem wasn’t the only musician to make a guest appearance, with Tanna Leone taking the stage behind Lamar soon after for “Mr. Morale,” the 24-year-old newcomer shirtless and surrounded with flames. Before bringing the show to a close, Lamar left no suspicions of an encore, with all of his hits being heavily concentrated in the first half of the show. He simply reminded us that he is not our savior, assured he won’t be gone for long, and then disappeared one final time into the darkness.

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