To sit in the middle of a concert by Chance the Rapper — whose daring balance of the sacred and the profane has produced a passionate, multi-ethnic army of young acolytes — is to witness the culture changing before your eyes.
Such was the scene Tuesday night at a packed AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, where Chance performed a powerful 80-minute set in which sincere invocations of his spirituality stood beside songs alluding to the dangerous practicalities of modern life in urban America, with gospel music carrying the mood to glorious heights one minute and n-words, f-bombs and gender-targeted slurs dropping with notable nonchalance the next.
His youthful Miami audience — which appeared to be roughly equal parts male and female, black, white and brown, with plenty of young teenagers in the mix — sang along enthusiastically and without judgment. Words that might make their parents recoil, sprang from their mouths matter-of-factly, devoid of venom. Lyrics that might have been divisive for a previous generation were, for this one, a source of unity.
Calling his cross-country trek the Be Encouraged Tour, Chance worked the audience with an evangelical zeal, encouraging them to remain confident and fearless in the face of opposition. Judging from the response, you would not want to be standing in the way of these young people if they set their minds to effecting change.
“I love y'all. I need y'all. I got y'all,” Chance said to the crowd as his song “All We Got” turned the audience into a leaping, arena-shaking mass.
Arriving onstage at 10:20 p.m., after an extra hour of time-killing music by skilled DJ Oreo, Chance (who later alluded to being ill) made his way through a multicolored cloud and the first of many small, unexpected explosions, kicking into “Mixtape” from the hit album “Coloring Book.” Like many of the 20 or so songs offered in abridged forms during the evening, “Mixtape” was gone soon after it arrived, making way for the hit “Blessings,” which encouraged the audience to join Chance in the refrain, “Praise Him till I’m gone.”
Dressed in trademark anti-style white T-shirt, worn jeans and his signature hat emblazoned with the number 3, Chance was chatty, warm and affectionate. He shouted, he whispered, he yelped, he spoke, he sang, he rhymed, he implored, he asked strangers to hold hands.
Most of the “Coloring Book” album was represented during the concert, including such fan favorites as “No Problem,” “Same Drugs,” “Angels” and the clubby party jam “All Night.” Standing atop a riser that grew out of the floor, Chance did a powerful version of his Kanye West/Kirk Franklin collaboration “Ultralight Beam,” with the audience, arms outstretched, singing the line “No one can judge us.”
Perhaps the biggest applause of the night went to “I’m the One,” from DJ Khaled’s new album, “Grateful.” Unfortunately, Miami resident Khaled only appeared in the accompanying video shown behind the stage.
Backing Chance during the show was a strong three-piece band, his “Surf” collaborators Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, with Donnie Trumpet (Nico Segal) on horns, keyboardist-producer Peter Cottontale and drummer Greg "Stix" Landfair Jr., along with an excellent vocal quartet the Third Story. “Surf” was represented by “Sunday Candy.”
Late in the show, Chance mounted a narrow bridge that dropped from the ceiling, stretching the entire length of the floor, and strolled over the crowd. Perhaps because 30 members of the Chicago native’s family had come to Miami for the show, or because he felt the need to make up for his late arrival onstage, Chance added “an extra song” to the set, “How Great,” a straight-ahead gospel tribute to God. He paired that with “Blessings (Reprise),” as the audience clapped and sang “Are you ready for your miracle?”
“You could have left me when I started doing too many gospel songs,” Chance told the audience, “but instead you filled up arenas.”