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A good rule of thumb for concerts: If the artist comes onstage blasting pyrotechnics and riding a motorcycle, it’s probably going to be a pretty fun show.
That was how Chance The Rapper opened his show Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena, and for two hours, he kept up the same level of energy and enthusiasm without missing a beat. After his massive entrance, Chance leapt off his bike, ran across the stage and immediately launched into his mega-hit “Mixtape,” to the overwhelming cheers of the crowd. About halfway through the song, the lights and music both stopped abruptly, only to slowly rise to reveal a small group of chorus singers against a calm backdrop as they hummed the opening to the gospel-inspired “Blessings.”
The first two songs set the tone for the rest of the night as Chance and his band tore through an unpredictable setlist filled with high-energy bangers, spiritual ballads and even a few covers. Despite some pretty rapid changes in style and energy, the performers never lost momentum and the crowd stayed upbeat and enraptured by Chance’s performance to the very end.
It would be unfair to discuss Chance’s electric performance without mentioning the musicians behind him. Unlike many current rappers, Chance actually takes a full band with him on tour, paying homage to rappers like Jay Z. After a few songs, he walked back to the stage to introduce them all personally to the crowd. The band consisted of Stix on drums, Peter Cottontale on keys, and Nico Segal –– better known as frequent Chance collaborator and band leader, Donnie Trumpet. All four musicians regularly play together in their ban, The Social Experiment, and the camaraderie and joy shared between them was obvious as they complemented some already wild songs with frantic drum fills and trumpet solos.
At most concerts I’m much more interested in the music than the visuals, but this was not most concerts. A massive curved screen at the back of the stage provided appropriate backdrops to each song, but the performance also included everything from smoke machines to confetti cannons to jets of fire so large I could feel the heat from where I was sitting, which was at least 100 feet away. One of the songs even featured actual fireworks above the stage. The highlight, however, was definitely a smoke-covered Chance literally rising off the ground during a cover of Kanye West’s “Ultra Light Beam.” There was more fanfare than I’ve ever seen at a concert, but it perfectly matched the vigor of the music and the crowd.
More than anything else, what stuck out to me about the show is Chance’s genuine love and passion for his music. For the entirety of the nearly two-hour show, he was bouncing across the stage with an infectious grin on his face as he hyped up the crowd with popular songs like “No Problem” and “Angels.” In between songs, he joked with the audience and talked a bit about his personal life. Chance wasn’t afraid to get serious, however, as he performed a number of quieter, more heartfelt numbers throughout the show. Among them was “Same Drugs,” for which he brought out a stool and sat down to sing over Peter Cottontale’s solo piano work. Chance also talked openly about his spirituality throughout the show, telling the crowd about his recently deceased aunt and his belief in heaven before launching into the joyous and uplifting “Finish Line.” The audience followed every moment of his performance with a repetitive cycle of frenzied celebration, rapt silence and sincere applause.
This sincerity is what separates Chance The Rapper from the rest of the hip-hop crowd. Not many rappers could sit down and sing an emotional piano number at the climax of a concert, or stop the show in between songs to talk about heaven and the greatness of God and have a room of 18,000 people completely silent and listening to his message. Chance pulls it off because it’s who he is. His earnestness and spirituality never feels forced or disingenuous because it’s evident in both his music and his personality. Chance shared that earnestness with the audience, and the audience responded with nothing but support and enthusiasm for everything he had to say.
At one point during the night, Chance took a moment to talk about the city of Columbus and his early shows at Skully’s Music Diner, which holds significantly less people than Nationwide does. “We shook that place,” he laughed, before explaining that to shake something isn’t just slang, but is an actual phenomenon that happens when everybody in a venue is jumping at once and “you can actually feel the foundation shake under your feet.” I can’t be positive, but I’m almost certain I felt the floor of Nationwide Arena moving Tuesday tonight.