J. Cole brought his "What Dreams May Came" tour to Myth last night, along with openers Wale and Bas. Full band in tow, Cole ran through a long set and maintained a heightened energy from beginning to end.
Queens rapper Bas opened up with a brief set of varied styles, ranging from slow-jam '90s grooves to straight-ahead 808 club tracks, and his raps were smooth and cogent enough that the crowd responded to everything. When he returned later during Cole's set for "Lit," I knew the audience must have been somewhat familiar already, but it was still nice to see a crowd so receptive to an opening act.
The extended Maybach Music drop teased the introduction to D.C.'s Wale, who came out singing "No Hands" along with his backup singers and the entire audience. With a live drum playing atop beats hiding behind a screen of lights, Wale added a tinge of go-go to each of his tracks. His voice was slightly scratchy, and he would rely on his singers to take the brunt of some tracks, but mostly he worked his way through a strong set with an enthusiastic stage presence. During "Pretty Girls" he left the stage and walked through the audience rapping as five security guards followed, and his sense of how to work the stage strengthened his set. The crowd sang along with a number of his songs, especially the infectious "Bad" and his "Rack City" remix encore. Leaping around the stage before he left, he was clearly having a good time.
The rain samples that opened J. Cole's set hinted at something a bit over-dramatic, which was confirmed by the fake news report that played on the screen at the back of the stage, framing the set in the context of a horrible car crash that killed Cole's driver and injured him. I'm not sure why the show was framed around this, but Cole continued to make allusions to the fact that maybe he actually died in the crash and maybe the smoke machines and skull imagery that played behind him meant he actually had died that night or something! The backstory was a little distracting and unnecessary, inching toward corny when it seemed the stage banter was fabricated ahead of time. Still, the lights and elevated stage set-up brought a great visual element to the show.
It turned out to be a minor diversion, and it was Cole's big performance and anthemic presentation with a seven-piece live band that stood out. The rule of thumb is usually that live bands back rappers in order to turn your attention away from the MC and take a bit of the work off their shoulders. This was no exception, but it did give Cole's songs a bigger feel that doesn't always come across on record. He's definitely a passionate rapper and he really sold every line with drive and great delivery. The audience was totally enthralled, singing back nearly every other line.
I wasn't expecting a full band or a long set considering the track record of most mainstream rap shows I've seen lately, but Cole made it a point to put on a big show. He played a range of music from his early days to his latest album, Born Sinner, and it seemed like the majority of the audience had followed him since his early career. Breaking in the middle of "Chris Tucker," he expanded on his line "She think I'm in the NBA, why a nigga can't have his MBA?" "I don't even like basketball, bitch! I like soccer, bitch! I like hockey, bitch! I like equestrian, bitch! I like to get together and work on puzzles while drinking tea and listening to Michael Bolton!" he ranted, before jumping into the tail end of the song.
After introducing the band member by member, as each did their best over-the-top show of their strengths, Cole thanked us for coming out and said we were all his friends. The packed house cheered, and had clearly been won over by the rapper's impressive stage show.
Personal Bias: I've always found Cole to be somewhat mediocre, but he comes across well live.
The Crowd: A diverse group of devoted fans.
Overheard in the Crowd: Delight over the keyboardist's use of a vocoder.
Land of the Snakes
Ain't That Some Shit
In the Morning
Can't Get Enough