Anticipation for Drake’s Club Paradise tour stopover at Jones Beach, an outdoor arena in Long Island, was colored by two recent news items: label-mate Nicki Minaj’s withdrawal from Summer Jam and a supposedly bottle-tossing nightclub fight with Chris Brown. On Friday, in a video posted on MTV.com, Drake said, “They fucked up Summer Jam, so I’m just gonna do Summer Jam how it’s supposed to go,” seemingly suggesting a Minaj guest appearance. (Interestingly, with the exception of Drake, the entire Club Paradise bill— 2 Chainz, French Montana, Meek Mill, Waka Flocka and J. Cole—performed at Hot 97’s annual summer show. At Jones Beach, the crowd skewed younger, whiter and with a preference for Red Bull over weed.) In the end, again, Minaj was a no-show; the evening’s biggest surprise was a four-song Dipset reunion, with Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Cam’ron emerging one track at a time to join forces on “I Really Mean It” and “Salute.” On the long bus ride home, a trio of girls complained that Drake didn’t just do “Practice” instead.
It was just as pointless wishing Drake would directly address the Brown situation. By strange coincidence, the tour’s Club Paradise theme teased the tension every time it was evoked, conjuring the scene of the supposed crime. Between songs, Drake spoke veiled introductions like “When it’s last call at the bar and you’re too drunk to give a fuck, and someone looks at you some way…” that you hoped would end in unhinged rants rather than “… so all you want to do is listen to our next guest, Meek Mill!” For “Take Care,” his song with Rihanna—who, as a mutual love interest, undoubtedly figures into the Brown feud—Drake seemed to stare for an extra beat at the spot in the backdrop where all the performers came out, and there was this millisecond of thrill that she was about to pop onstage, effectively taking sides and sending the drama through the stratosphere. That was, of course, a pipe dream.
Drake only indulged these petty controversies indirectly, saving his best moments to flirt, instead, with adoring members of the crowd. After perpetually-best-dressed performer French Montana did “Pop That” in a matching watermelon-colored Versace scarf and jacket, Drake told a long story about a man in short-shorts and a headset coming to his dressing room to say that Drake would have to shorten the set, but Drake told him not tonight, because he’d put money up for New York so don’t bother him, YOLO. For the next ten minutes, over mood music from his backing band, Drake indulged the crowd in an unbroken stream of compliments. “I see you right there with the braids behind your head like Sade, how you feeling? I see you in the yellow shirt looking fit, how you feeling?” and so on. The onstage video display was filled with live footage of the happy audience, and at one point Drake called the cameraman over and said, “Hang on, I need you to film the finest woman in the building,” pointing to a 60-something Bea Arthur lookalike in the front row. Drake told her, with her grinning face projected behind him at least 20 feet tall, “I can only imagine you back in the day, because you look on fire.” Around the venue he went, shouting out girls and telling them he’d like to eat them for lunch, that he liked their style, that they made him excited. To a woman in the front row with slicked back hair: “Do you have any kids?” She shook her head: No. “Do you want one?” Seriously, for ten minutes. It was amazing.
One final note: to pay tribute to an unheralded star of Club Paradise, opening act Waka Flocka’s over-the-top drummer, Alien Warr. Live bands were a fixture of the night, but serving purely as stage decoration compared to Warr’s spastic performance. Shirtless and in an assortment of masks, including a Phantom of the Opera number and one that looked like Krusty the Klown, he hardly sat down once throughout the set, instead doing tricks like standing on the kick drum to do snare rolls. After Waka hopped into the crowd, performing songs from thirty rows deep, Warr had free reign of the stage. He unscrewed a tom and carried it around, marching band-style, then, on the way back to his kit, he rolled the drum across the stage while drumming it. Me and the ten-year-old standing one row in front of me, his broken arm in a sling, agreed: That guy ruled.