Concert Reviews: The Weeknd, Ms Lauryn Hill & Nas

Date: September 9, 2017

Venue: Air Canada Centre

Lineup: Nav, French Montana, The Weeknd

I took my wife to see The Weeknd not knowing who the opening acts were.

Nav needs to stick to producing. He’s a boring performer who relies heavily on backing vocal tracks. He doesn’t have much to say as an artist, and lacks the swagger to make his generic hedonistic raps land. My favorite part of his set was tweeting this:

I saw French Montana at the Bad Boy Reunion show last year and was not impressed. This time, he came ready to perform and put on a good show. His #1 hit with Swae Lee, “Unforgettable”, was teased but not fully performed. He came back in the middle of The Weeknd’s headlining set to perform the full song. It’s too big a hit to be relegated to an opening act. French should always thank Swae Lee for carrying the best parts of that song while he gets to take credit as the lead artist. He kept the energy up through the rest of his set, which included a tribute to fallen comrade Chinx, an up-and-coming rapper who was gunned down in Queens 2 years ago.

After another set break, The Weeknd entered from a platform under the stage and went straight into “Starboy”. Great way to kick things off! He followed it with some songs from his mixtape trilogy and Kiss Land. Personally, I like his last 2 more commercially successful albums a lot more. He got to them later in the set. There were a couple of songs he didn’t perform that I would have loved to see, like “High For This” and “Real Life”. Belly and Nav came out to perform songs that they collaborated with The Weeknd on. He closed with “I Can’t Feel My Face” and “I Feel It Coming”, then came back out and did “The Hills” as an encore. It was a solid headlining set, and The Weeknd has more than enough hits to fill it up.

Date: September 10, 2017

Venue: Budweiser Stage

Lineup: Chronixx, Nas, Ms Lauryn Hill

I had not heard of Chronixx before this show. I’m a fan after seeing him perform. His band was great, and he was in his groove in an unrushed, commanding performance of fantastic reggae music. I saw his set solo as the friends I was meeting up with were running late.

In my opinion, Nas is the greatest rapper alive. I saw him at Rock The Bells in 2009, and his voice went out during “One Mic”. Damian Marley had to take over a lot more of the set than was probably originally planned. He more than redeemed himself here, delivering on banger after banger, medley-style. “Black Republican”, “Got Yourself A Gun”, “Halftime”, “Hate Me Now”, “Nas Is Like”…the hits kept on coming. Nas drops gems in his rhymes, and emphasized them in his performance. He paid tribute to Michael Jackson, played “Human Nature” and went straight into “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” while thanking MJ for clearing the sample. He closed with an amazing rendition of “One Mic”. My friends finally made it to the venue for the end of this set.

Ms Lauryn Hill kicked off the headlining set with re-worked arrangements of her songs. After a couple, it became clear that we were getting these remixes all night long. “How Many Mics” and “Lost Ones” in particular sounded very different from the actual records. There was some grumbling from the crowd. I accepted it and mostly enjoyed the new compositions. “Killing Me Softly” was still the moment it should be. Lauryn is still a straight spitter, and rapped her ass off. Don’t let the Auntie Nina Simone look fool you.

Nas came back out and dropped more hits. Like he did with Michael Jackson, he played the Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” before going into “Street Dreams”. The crowd went nuts for “Made You Look”. Lauryn joined him for the grand finale, their smash hit collaboration “If I Ruled The World”.

With catalogs spanning over 20 years, it’s impossible for Nas and Lauryn to get every fan’s favorite tracks in. They did a good job with their setlists and performances. Lauryn’s fans may be disappointed at some of the new arrangements, but as a performer she is absolutely top-notch.

Rappers performing with backing vocal tracks has become accepted, but I hate it. Sometimes the backing track is louder than the mic! Nas performed with no backing vocals, just himself and a hypeman. It’s so much better this way.

Go see this show.