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Concert Reviews:
Kendrick Lamar keeps the bar high at the Fillmore Detroit

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013

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DETROIT - A gauntlet of sorts had been thrown down for Kendrick Lamar before his performance Thursday, Aug. 1, at the Fillmore Detroit.

The rapper from Compton, Calif., is saluted in the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine as being one of the 50 reasons to be excited about live music this year -- specifically because he's "raising the bar for live hip-hop." That's a formidable designation to live up to every night.

But Lamar did his part on Thursday as part of the nationwide 50 50 1 event, which featured one webcast concert in every stage. With cameras positioned around the Fillmore, Lamar brought his A game for a 70-minute show that touched on all or part of 16 different songs, most drawn from his lauded 2012 album good kid, m.A.D.d city but also dipping into his less-celebrated 2011 release "Section 80" for "A.D.H.D." as well as the early mixtape favorite "Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)" and a couple of Lamar's guest appearances -- A$AP Rocky's "F***in' Problems" and Young Jeezy's "R.I.P."

Interestingly, Lamar's method for raising the bar is to take rap back to its minimalist roots; on Thursday it was just him and a DJ -- no hype man (or woman), no dancers, no spectacle. Dressed in a black-on-white print T-shirt, Lamar instead focused on the microphone and his music -- being a pure MC, in other words -- which added more punch to authoritative renditions of "Backstreet Freestyle," "P&P," "...Don't Kill My Vibe," "Poetic Justice," "Swimming Pools (Dank)" and the encore "Cartoons & Cereal," all of which the Fillmore crowd was perfectly able to shout back to Lamar whenever he beckoned.

If his skills ruled the night, however, Lamar's between-song games hewed to standard rap fare, however -- teasing into individual songs, playing one side of the theater against the other for responses. The biggest response, not surprisingly, came at the end of the show, after he plucked a particularly exuberant fan from the audience and declared that "I will always come back to Detroit." Clearly he will always be welcome, no matter where the bar for live hip-hop sits at the time.

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