Kendrick Lamar, a rapper responsible for one of the best albums of 2012, gave one of the year’s worst performances Sunday at the Midland.
Rarely has the disparity between the quality of an artist’s recorded work and a corresponding live performance been greater.
Lamar, 25, is one of the most imaginative artists in hip-hop. His richly textured work provides vivid insights into his upbringing in Compton, Calif. Yet the five songs Lamar performed from his ambitious new album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” on Sunday sounded commonplace and dimwitted.
The format was partly to blame.
The multiple characters and complex plot lines featured on “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” merit a full theatrical production. Yet aside from a small table for a DJ, the Midland’s stage was barren. A folding chair served as Lamar’s sole prop.
The minimalist approach didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the youthful audience of about 1,500. Most rapped along to each of the 15 selections Lamar performed. They only expressed dismay when Lamar’s appearance concluded after only 56 minutes.
The audience didn’t seem to mind that Lamar didn’t attempt to replicate the subtleties of his recorded work. The multiple voices Lamar uses to convey different characters and narrative perspectives on his albums was replaced by a monochromatic bellow. The original intent of several selections was obliterated by the diminished approach. “Backseat Freestyle” is intended as a satire of ignorant hip-hop on “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.” Lamar seemed to embrace the song’s exaggerated mysogyny and glorification of senseless violence on Sunday. “Swimming Pool (Drank),” a cautionary tale about alcohol abuse, was transformed into a doltish celebration of excess.
Even Lamar’s acclaimed creativity seemed to have been dulled.
A freestyle rap at the conclusion of “P 1.5” was embarrassingly anemic. Only ana cappella
rendition of “I Am” reflected Lamar’s capacity for greatness.
Unlike Lamar, Les Izmore doesn’t suffer from a lack of charisma.
Izmore’s commanding presence added a sense of urgency to an auspicious 25-minute opening set by the Kansas City-based Heartfelt Anarchy. With essential contributions from producer D/Will and trumpeter Hermon Mehari, Izmore rapped over icy industrial beats, dreamy indie rock and elastic soul-based grooves.
Heartfelt Anarchy’s set possessed a distinctiveness that was entirely absent from Lamar’s excruciatingly pedestrian headlining effort.