Kendrick Lamar / Earl Sweatshirt Sound Academy, Toronto ON, Aug 2

Kendrick Lamar / Earl Sweatshirt Sound Academy, Toronto ON, Aug 2
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Given the level of near-universal love shown to current rap king Kendrick Lamar over the past year, there was little question that the Toronto stop of his good kid, m.A.A.d. city tour — his first return visit since releasing the tour's namesake record — would be something truly explosive. Fans at the sold-out Sound Academy love-in took it well beyond that, however, proving their credentials by rapping along as enthusiastically between euphoric screams to standouts from Lamar's most recent studio smash as they did to cuts a few mixtapes deep.

Concert goers were still streaming into the the already cramped venue as Earl Sweatshirt plodded through his early opening set, drawing the biggest response with final cut "Drop." That momentary buzz was soon all but squandered, however, by a canned (and skipping) collection of about ten old-school tracks running on repeat that were meant to hold things over until the main event. It wasn't too long, though, before Kendrick's DJ stepped up to rectify that situation as he let loose a stream of current hits for more in tune with the people in the room.

The opening sounds of "The Art Of Peer Pressure" announced Lamar's arrival on stage, and the reigning ruler stood confidently in front of his crowd for a moment, breathing in the unrelenting adulation, before setting things off with fitting lead-in "Backseat Freestyle." Watching as the room carried the song's chorus and much of its three verses word-for-word was truly something, a vibe Kendrick clearly caught onto as he would work with and feed from it for the remainder of the show. The Compton native also seemed well aware of his fans' faithfulness as he spent much of the set's early portion bouncing around from older tunes like "Pussy and Patron" to guest verses ("Fuckin' Problems," "R.I.P."), before winding back to gems from Section 80 and his more recent official debut LP.

Solid material aside, great hip-hop shows are built largely from the performer's onstage charisma, and K-Dot has that in spades, though the show's well-scripted segues and the rapper's increasing reliance on the tired "which side's louder" gimmick, while not a complete negative, did tend to detract a bit from that. But those minor frayed edges amounted to pretty small potatoes in a show that never lost its electricity, and one that became even more charged with arrival of highly anticipated sure-shots "Money Trees," "Poetic Justice" and a run through of "Swimming Pools" by cellphone light.

Rare catalog favourite "Cut You Off" wound things down before Kendrick left with a blistering, triumphant a cappella, returning momentarily for one last, Earl-assisted joint that was met with a large bra hurled onto the stage. A final declaration that Toronto was his favourite city, and it was all over.

Kendrick Lamar, armed with a pen, a pad, and a studio mic is an undisputed beast, but performing live is an entirely different animal, and those skills don't always carry over. His latest Toronto showcase, however, proved Lamar a threat in both settings, and gave the sense that things are only going to get better.