Kendrick Lamar closed his 2017 Damn Tour in Miami Saturday night with a forceful performance that seemed to excite something deep and primal inside nearly 20,000 fans who packed AmericanAirlines Arena.
The fast and furious 80-minute concert leaned heavily on Lamar’s latest album, “Damn,” a tour-de-force of storytelling, lyrical experimentation, consciousness-raising social observations and self-examination set to a relentless beat.
From the moment Lamar arrived onstage, rising through the floor alone on a platform, as the crowd yelled “I got, I got, I got” — the opening lines of “DNA” — a special connection between rapper and audience was apparent. This was an interactive show, with Lamar and his diverse army of fans reciting nearly every line in unison throughout the night — the sight of teen girls and their mothers rapping along with the profanities and vulgarities that Lamar specializes in being its own form of entertainment.
The Compton, Calif., native is clearly confident in the ability of his lyrics to carry the show. He performed alone on a spare, black stage, backed by a large video screen, with another large screen tilted overhead like the open lid of a laptop. The screens were often employed for scenes of Lamar’s oddball Kung Fu Kenny character. Martial-arts performers dressed as ninjas periodically appeared to fight and allow Lamar some time to catch his breath.
Pacing the stage like a wounded tiger, Lamar was in constant motion, lyrics exploding from his mouth like strings of firecrackers. His music, especially songs from the new album, seems to tap into universal frustrations of fans and the live performance is both a great party and an opportunity for cathartic release. As he stood back to allow the crowd to handle the repeated line “I don’t give a f—k” in the powerful new song “Element,” Lamar seemed energized by the fist-pumping passion being reflected back toward him.
The “Damn” song “Humble,” with the crowd going off on its “Be humble! Sit down!” refrain, was one of many moments that threatened to tear the roof off the arena. Similarly, the hopeful “Alright,” from 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” inspired an arena-wide chorus of “We gon’ be alright.”
Other highlights included “XXX” and “Loyalty” from “Damn,” and older tracks such as “Untitled 07/2014-2016” (“Levitate! Levitate!”), Schoolboy Q’s multilingual track “Collard Greens” and the old-school funkiness of “King Kunta.”
There were quieter moments, as well, including the recent slow jam “Lust,” performed on a small stage in the middle of the floor that was lifted about 20 feet in the air as Lamar sang. The jangly guitar sound on “Pride” added an appropriate tenderness for a song bathed in cell phone lights, which continued into Lamar’s soul-baring “Love.”
There aren’t many artists who can segue from such vulnerability into “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” but the crowd was especially pleased that he did.