The purple bulbs had been hovering over the TD Garden crowd all night, but no one noticed until Drake reached for one. All the hits he’d run through up to that point — from the tone-setting “Summer Sixteen” to the mission statement “Started from the Bottom” — were just the set-up. On cue, the light lowered hypnotically from the scaffolding, as if directed by Steven Spielberg.
The metronomic tick-tocks of Timmy Thomas’s 1975 sleeper “Why Can’t We Live Together” should’ve been enough of a hint. Drake held onto the light fixture like a miner’s lantern while Thomas’s pitched-down voice cooed in the background. The moment he let go, the tick-tock got faster.
“You used to call me on my… / You used to, you used to.”
When the beat to Drake’s unexpected smash “Hotline Bling” finally dropped, a cascade of bulbs fell from the rafters with it. It felt like cinema: The social-media auteur whose music videos become memes had put the 14,000 fans who came out for the Boston stop on his Summer Sixteen Tour into a scene of their own. And when the bulbs rose back up to the rafters, he assessed the crowd as if he’d pulled off a magic trick.
“You like that?” he asked.
But if Drake can make a 17,000-seat arena feel like a music video, Future – whose set was sandwiched in the middle of Drake’s – can make it feel like a club. Such is the strange but successful symbiosis between two of rap’s most unstoppable forces. Even if their relationship has been tense at times, Drake’s chart-topping, stream-shattering pop dominance somehow goes hand in hand with the furious, unapologetic trap anthems that have made Future a ball of momentum for the past year.
Their careers have been intertwined since a young Drake dropped a guest verse on Future’s debut single, “Tony Montana.” But even though they were billed as co-headliners here, this wasn’t the type of show where they’d share the stage for more than a few songs. (Three, all told.)
Drake took the crowd on a tour of a catalog almost frighteningly deep for an artist only six years into his career. At one point he replayed the humble brag “I should prolly sign to Hit-Boy cause I got all the hits, boy” from his 2014 loosie “0 to 100” just to set up an opportunity to prove it by breezing through “We Made It,” “Blessings,” “No Lie,” “Versace,” and “Pop That” like a Spotify shuffle of his Hot 100s.
His bag of tricks felt bottomless. He could sing “Hold On, We’re Going Home” from a lift above the crowd. He had pyro on command.
Future brought a different kind of fireworks, all organic. He had four dancers and DJ Esco at his disposal when he levitated through a hole in the stage midway through Drake’s set. The two shared vocals on “Grammys,” after which Drake stepped out and Future stepped up. The boom of his “Bugatti” filled the room; anything his set lacked in dazzle, it made up for in pure fun.
Drake’s constellation of bulbs was a box-office production, but the cell-phone starlight that lit up the Garden when Future performed “March Madness” was just as magical. They were distinct rappers with distinct waves, their paths still intertwined.
DRAKE + FUTURE
At TD Garden, Aug. 10
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.