Chance the Rapper's show began under a rainbow and finished in a lightning storm. Yes, you read that order of events correctly.
It seemed fitting that Chancelor Bennett, the 24-year-old rapper from the White Sox side of Chicago who made gospel rap cool, would perform Tuesday night (May 30) under biblical skies.
After having his initial Toronto stop on this spring's 36-date "Be Encouraged" tour delayed a week due to Lake Ontario's flooded water levels, Chance's set was cut a few juke jams short when, about 60 minutes deep, he abruptly said: "I'll do one more song. They say I gotta go. A storm is coming."
When the praises go up, the rain comes down, and so a gleeful, thoroughly entertained, sold-out and soaking-wet crowd scattered out through the puddles and flashes of God's electric light. It wasn't quite ark weather, but a poncho would've helped.
Thank heavens the hour preceding the downpour was so magical, thanks to Chance's sunny disposition, killer band and bulletproof catalogue. Pyrotechnic rigs spewed blinding heat from the floor as Chance vroomed in from stage left on a moped he instantly ditched. He opened with the triumphant "Mixtape," his medium of choice and a personal favourite.
Hands raised under the amphitheatre canvas as Chance launched into his first rendition of "Blessings" and the flawless "Angels," before removing the denim jacket over his white tee and stopping to admire a congregation that has grown in lockstep with his songwriting talent and fame.
"It's a lot of people," Chance said. "I'm nervous."
If true, he didn't show it. Who else could belt out, "Jesus is all I got!" at full throat and have thousands of cool, young people scream their approval?
Warmly and confidently backed by his friends the Social Experiment — trumpeter and bandleader Nico Segal (bka Donnie Trumpet), drummer Stix and keyboardist Peter Cottontale on keys — and a quartet of backup vocalists, Chance's latest tour feels like a victory lap to bask in the glory and success of 2016's Coloring Book, the first streaming-only project to win a Grammy.
Blasts of red and white streamers showered the crowd and smoke machines puffed flumes.
The underdog's Grammy wins were underscored during the jubilantly independent "No Problem." The well-used video backdrop splashed drawings of Chance's three trophies and mocking logos of major labels "Phony," "Undiverse" and "Weiner Music Group," complete with a childish doodle of a penis. Take that, traditional distribution channels.
Adding to his honours (somewhere far down the list, I'm sure) on this night, Chance became the first artist to headline the newly refurbished and rebranded Budweiser Stage. The venue formerly known as Molson Canadian Amphitheatre (different beer, same result) has benefited from more than a million dollars in upgrades, including artist murals, better and more food options (hello, Webers hamburgers), Uber pickup zones and a strict no-backpack policy.
If there was a complaint to be made about Chance's polished, engaging and colourful set, it's that most of the renditions were cut short after a verse or two. I know we live in short-attention-span times, and there are a ton of joints on his third mixtape to squeeze in, but it'd be nice to hear a few tracks breathe a little.
While a mini Kanye set ("Waves," "Father Stretch My Hands," "Ultralight Beam") was a sweet divergence — Where would Chance be without "Jesus Walks"? — detours off Coloring Book's script were scarce.
A pair of Acid Rap's best ("Cocoa Butter Kisses" and "Favorite Song") and Chance's cameo verse on the freshest DJ Khaled summer anthem, "I'm the One," garnered great reactions, as did the one single Chance performed off the Social Experiment's Surf.
The lyrics of "Sunday Candy" proved eerily, wonderfully prophetic: "Come on in this house, 'cause it's gonna rain / Rain down Zion, it's gonna rain."