Future / Migos Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON, May 16

Future / Migos Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON, May 16
Photo: Rick Clifford

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Though the mixtapes that followed his revered 2014/2015 run of releases were hit and miss, Future proved he hadn't lost his power to surprise by delivering the one-two punch of FUTURE and HNDRXX a week apart earlier this year. The former painted a recognizable portrait of the rapper as a codeine-fuelled "Super Trapper," while the latter found him getting back in touch with the R&B leanings that had him pegged as a crossover king earlier in his career.
 
Before the Air Canada Centre crowd found out which side of Future's duality they would bear witness to Tuesday night (May 16), they were first treated to Tory Lanez, A$AP Ferg and the triple threat that is Migos. The Atlanta trio, who were in Canada for their first time, weren't given much space to work with onstage, keeping close company with a battery of LED screens and DJ Durel's decks.
 
Nevertheless, Quavo, Offset and Takeoff paced the floor and kept the crowd right with them for the undeniable hooks of "Bad and Boujee" and "Handsome and Wealthy," though each one found themselves competing with the volume levels of one another, their DJ and the backing track in numerous instances.
 
The battle was won particularly handily by Takeoff, who never missed a bar in delivering his unfailingly precise verses from "T-Shirt" and "Pipe It Up," the latter of which found DJ Durel attempting to lead the crowd in singing the hook upon their failure to pick it up.
 
Rap hasn't forgotten about Future's outright rejection of pop star posturing, but the space that comes with an arena tour allowed him to fall right into it, with his stage setup featuring a number of different risers, lighting rigs and staircases. Though his shirt read "Fear of God," he became one in the eyes of the audience, appearing from the stage floor via elevator and descending the stairs after a brief flash of the VVS diamond rings that adorned his fingers.
 
From there, a handful of FUTURE cuts highlighted by some technically sound singing on "Draco" led to a selection of hooks and features from his earlier years. In reaching as far back as "Itchin'" and "Chosen One," juxtaposed with more recent material like "Move That Dope" and "Thought It Was a Drought," his mass of screens displayed everything from grayscale shots of project housing to colourful chemical swirls. The pyro capabilities of Future's stage rig were tested out during "Sh!t," the screens displaying "Nobody's Safe" disclaimers as the rapper shouted his way through the song's stops and starts.
 
Future stood on his own through the first half of the set before being joined onstage by a trio of backup dancers, decked out in orange camo pants and electric yellow Jordans. Touring partner A$AP Ferg joined the party to pump out the bombastic "New Level" before DJ Esco, who had stayed hidden during the first half, led the crowd through something of a half-time show that dragged on a little too long. Playing ultimate hype man, he gave out T-shirts, spun Lil Uzi Vert and 21 Savage songs, and beat the "left side-right side" crowd loudness contest to death even further.
 
When Esco finally took to a DJ booth upon Future's return, the two worked through the hat trick of "Incredible," "I'm So Groovy" and "Coming Out Strong." The run was the best look at how sound Future is when it comes to singing live, his voice somehow becoming both clearer and smoother than his recordings as he projected into the microphone. It got the better of him one time in taking on the Drake-assisted single "Used to This," though; while he was in key with his own pre-recorded vocals, the track left little room for live improv or inflection in the present.
 
Having pushed each other earlier in delivering the more heartfelt "My Savages," Future and Esco expended whatever was left of their star power in pushing the pyro rig to its limits for "Fuck Up Some Commas," lighting up the cavernous ACC with cell phone flashlights for "March Madness," and shouting every line of the rapper's latest smash, "Mask Off," with conviction. Whether you're a fan of the pop star or the monster, the two halves proved essential in Future realizing his arena-sized ambitions splendidly last night.