Drake / Miguel / Future / Partynextdoor Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON, October 24

Drake / Miguel / Future / Partynextdoor Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON, October 24
Photo: Celia Moase
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"This was the greatest birthday ever. For the first time in my life, I'm at a loss for words. I love you all so much," Drake would assert through near-tears at the end of his show at the Air Canada Centre. And really, you had to believe him; the man born Drake Aubrey Graham — 27 years to the day — spent approximately 15 full minutes in the middle of his set circling a suspended catwalk, personally shouting out people in the crowd ("You in the purple and black... I see you," etc.) as strains of "305 to My City" played quietly in the background.

His self-proclaimed mission to "make everyone feel special" was, depending on your disposition, either charming or patronizing. As the hungry crowd vied for his attention, it was clear those who felt the latter way were firmly in the minority, and even the most jaded had to swoon when he spotted his high-school teacher and thanked her, and then thanked his mother for coming.

It was, without any doubt, an inadvisable thing to do at a concert — fans whose sections weren't the target of Drake's charm bored quickly, and it took a good few songs to regain the momentum he lost during it — but Drake does exactly what he wants these days, especially in Toronto, and his city loves him right back for it.

After openers Partynextdoor, Future, and Miguel, Drake's set began dramatically, as a riser lifted him to preside over the Air Canada Centre's large, empty stage. The minimal decoration put the spotlight solely on Drake, and he commanded the audience's attention with ease. Shrieks of approval met his every move, whether introducing himself or taking off his jacket. A prologue verse from "Tuscan Leather" led into true opener "Headlines" and follow-up "Crew Love," "a fucking singalong" if you ever heard one, especially without the Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye there to sing his parts.

"I was born in the best motherfucking city in the world," he promised as he showcased the excellent Nothing Was the Same with "Furthest Thing," "Wu-Tang Forever," and "Connect," whose lyric mentioning the 401 drew such a huge response that he added a roll call including Mississauga (cheers!), Ajax and Pickering (cheers!) and "B-Town," a.k.a. Brampton (cheers!).

A medley featuring "Pop That," "No New Friends" and "Fuckin' Problems" demonstrated Drake's influence and reach in the rap world, and a short set with Future — featuring collabs on "Bitches Love Me," "Tony Montana" and "Same Damn Time" — squashed any rumours of lingering beef from the pair's pre-tour squabble.

His winning streak continued with "Pound Cake" sandwiched between "Versace" and "The Motion," songs that prove even Drake's b-sides are hits, and "Come Thru," the denouement of which featured guest Jhene Aiko. The pair performed Nothing Was the Same highlight "From Time" with Drake sitting on the stage stairs, imbuing his verses with even more conversational flair than on record.

Disappointing for long-time Drake fans, however, was a late-set break during which his DJ played snippets of older singles, sans Drake. Would it be too much to ask for the rapper to play at least one of "Successful," "Uptown," "Over," "Up All Night" or "I'm Goin In"? The audience knew every word but was forced to sing along to the short song fragments in lieu of Drake, a minor insult to those who've been fans since day one and might want a performance of at least the opening verse on "Forever."

Still, when Drake reappeared for "Hold On, We're Going Home" in an appropriately summery shirt with a beach scene and cloudy blue sky on it, all was seemingly forgiven; "Too Much," "Worst Behaviour" and "The Language" helped.

It took "No Lie," "I'm On One" and especially a spirited "HYFR" complete with smoke geysers to right the ship after his catwalk gimmick, but by the time Drake played "All Me," the crowd was firmly back in the palm of his hand.

Almost eclipsing memories of his missteps entirely, Drake closed with fireworks, both figurative and literal, on "Started From the Bottom." He ended appropriately by earnestly thanking his city — all at once, thankfully — and hinting at his next generous gift for Toronto: "See you at OVO Fest."