Just two summers ago, Drake stood outside the gates of Ontario Place in his hometown of Toronto, waiting like everybody else to get into the Beyoncé concert at the Molson Amphitheatre. Few people made a fuss, even though he had starred for eight years on the teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation.
A year later, the biggest newcomer to hip-hop staged the inaugural OVO Fest (an acronym for his entertainment company October's Very Own) at the very same venue, enlisting heavyweight help throughout the night from Eminem, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Fabolous, Toronto's Kardinal Offishall and others. Beyoncé was reportedly backstage.
Last night's repeat visit topped even that: a surprise appearance by Stevie Wonder, who took over Drake's headlining set for a full half-hour with almost no accompaniment from his host, except some I-am-not-worthy-style bowing and a fun freestyle about "Stevie on the keys/I wonder who's next?" and "playing with a legend. There it is."
Throughout Drake's two-hour-plus show, there were other special guests: Nas, rising star J. Cole and Drake's label boss Lil Wayne of Young Money Entertainment, all of whom were previously unannounced, as well as OVO Fest's scheduled openers Rick Ross and Toronto R&B protégé the Weeknd (who performed live in concert for the first time last weekend). That's more than the sold-out crowd of 16,000 could ever have hoped for, but certainly didn't need, given Drake's on-the-mark performance skills. He could've handled the show on his own.
As soon as the black curtain fell — revealing a full live band, including a violinist and DJ, and stage-to-rafter steel posts that would act as screens for various projections — the audience was his and remained throughout such songs as "Show Me A Good Time," "Bollywood Flow," "Best I Ever Had," "Let's Call It Off," "Forever" and "Over." (See full set list below.)
Dressed simply in a sleeveless black OVOXO T-shirt and khaki cargo pants, Drake paused periodically to take in the reception from his hometown. "There's only one thing I care about in this world — Toronto," he said at one point, with many variations to follow. It wasn't just obligatory stage-speak. Drake was clearly overwhelmed. "I promised myself I wouldn't rush this shit," he revealed he told himself.
With the energy and charisma of any of the world's most enduring, entertaining frontmen, he was not a stage-pacer going through the motions of his rhymes. He changed up and broke down the songs, acknowledged and reveled in his killer band, giving them props and solos, and he worked the crowd, even getting out a pair of binoculars to single out dozens of girls in the audience. "I see you right there in the yellow;" "I see you in the Run DMC shirt and the hat;" "I see you in the stripes…"s
At 10:45, he told the crowd, "I'm gonna step off for a second. I'll be back." The stage crew scurried to set up a keyboard and soon the familiar figure of Stevie Wonder sat down, and started engaging the crowd in the "da da das" to "Sir Duke." (Watch highlights from the show below.)
There, with his own band, the soul legend continued with "I Wish," "My Cherie Amour," "Ribbons in The Sky," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and "Superstitious." Drake, ever respectful, mostly stayed off to the side or in the shadows, grooving to the classics.
As some of the younger set in the audience visibly grew disinterested, the soul interlude ended and Drake returned with the Weeknd, telling a brief story of how an associate played him "this voice" one night: "It's one of the greatest voices I've heard in my entire life and he's from my city." But the Drake pulled out his last ace — Lil Wayne, who told everyone "I'm fresh out of customs and shit." There followed a killer close alongside Drake and Ross, before Drake took a moment onstage by himself to profess him undying love again for Toronto and let everyone know his new album, Take Care, will be released Oct. 24.