Kendrick Lamar: Taking it to the fields

Much has been made of the literary calibre of this year’s festival. There’s a Nobel Prize winner playing Sunday and a Pulitzer Prize winner on Saturday, though, as a matter of fact, Kendrick Lamar won the latter in the music category, which means he was being recognized more for his beats than for his rhymes, but it’s those rhymes that deserve the awards.

The rain-soaked crowd at the Green Stage had to wait a bit, but in the end Kendrick’s stage production was actually rather austere, as if he were taking Japanese aesthetic sense to the limit. An odd generic Asian video played before he came out (Kendrick is also playing South Korea on this trip), and at one point during the show a ninja appeared at the edge of the stage, as well as an avant-garde type dancer flitting across the back, but for the most part it was just Kendrick for the full 90 minutes. No chorus lines or back dancers. No supplemental MC. Even the musicians were in the shadows. The only distraction visually was the high-waisted overalls he wore. He looked as if he were going fly fishing after the show.

Opening with “DNA” Kendrick was assertive and confident, and remained so during the show. There were no star theatrics, no attempts to get the crowd to sing along or jump in unison (a big thing this weekend). He did make sure he covered ground, reaching as far back as 2012 for some older songs. In line with his general demeanor as an artist, it was a serious performance, built on words and ideas rather than beats and samples and riffs.

Since the fans near the front knew these words by heart, they got the most out of the show, because they saw how much this stuff means to Kendrick. It’s very doubtful that the Nobel Prize winner playing on Sunday will show half as much passion for his work, but it’s not just because he’s almost 80. He’s a bit farther from his youthful passions than Kendrick is.