ACL Review: Kendrick Lamar II

Repeat performance varies little in set-list or sheer force

Dark and keen, Kendrick Lamar’s skittering eyes zoomed in across the backdrop screen at the Samsung stage on Saturday. They summed up the Compton MC’s pensive catalog, which brings minute detail into unsettling closeups. Crystalline observations of self-hate and institutionalized oppression are distilled via moving moments of Black pride and power.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

That’s true whether he’s riding shotgun along Rosecrans Avenue in 2013’s good kid m.A.A.d city or grappling with a fiery bedlam of politics, depression, and fame on last year’s acclaimed chart-topper cinematic To Pimp A Butterfly.

Aware that the headier moments of jazz experimentation throughout this spring’s Untitled Unmastered and To Pimp A Butterfly might be lost among the behemoth crowd, the headlining rapper dashed in a spitfire cadence to “Levitate” as the eerie and languid blur of the original faded in fervor of a chest-pumping affair. “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools” were met with mega response as K-Dot reminded fans why they love his unrelenting braggadocio when he body bags J Cole and Drake with a hard-brass competitive edge.

It almost goes without saying that he’s no longer the burgeoning 26-year-old at ACL Fest 2013. Three years on, he asserts a claim to the throne of greats with which he’s aligned himself. Michael Jackson, Prince, and Tupac all flit across the screen big as life. Contemporary competition faded as he rapped along to Schoolboy Q’s bouncy “Collard Greens” and brought up Q himself for a frenzied “That Part.”

Lamar fell into a fluid and loose undertow as he delved into a sinuous g-funk exploration in “These Walls” and “For Sale (Interlude).” Parliament-Funkadelic-like jams conjured spastic, runaway keys that tumbled across John Coltrane sax bursts as heavenly choir expanses collided with the singer-spitter’s chaotic ruminations on Lucy, a seductive woman disguised as Lucifer. “Untitled 02” had a half-possessed Lamar spiraling into a distraught sinner (“World is going brazy/ Where did we go wrong?”) struggling with his “top billing” fame and riddled with survivor’s guilt from leaving his home of “black cherry soda pistol poverty.”

Backed by a full band, older cuts like the defiant “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” oscillating “Money Trees,” and “m.A.A.d city” were altered into bombastic renditions that boasted Max Roach stick ricochets and flashy guitar work. After the spoken-word parable of slavery and double entendre sex in “For Free,” he ended in a similar fashion to last week’s sinewy finale of Section.80’s “A.D.H.D.”

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Kendrick Lamar, ACL Fest 2016, K-Dot, Michael Jackson, Prince, Tupac, Parliament-Funkadelic, Jon Coltrane, Max Roach, Schoolboy Q, J.Cole, Drake

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