Exactly one year removed from the release of the mixtape that made him a superstar, hip-hop’s golden boy, 24-year-old Chancellor Bennett, aka Chance the Rapper, brought his “Be Encouraged” tour to a ravenous, capacity crowd of nearly 18,000 at the Providence Medical Amphitheater in Bonner Springs.
“There is an insane amount of people here,” Bennett said as he marveled the sold-out crowd. “I honestly don’t believe there are 18,000 Chance the Rapper fans in Kansas City.”
The outing gave Chance his third consecutive year of sold-out KC area shows after bursting the seams at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland during both of his previous 2015 and 2016 trips.
“We’re gonna take a lot of twists and turns,” he cautioned at the show’s onset. “This set isn’t going to be as smooth as it usually is.”
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“Energetic” might have been a more apt adjective.
For despite having the most impressive stage, sound system and crowd he’s ever experienced in KC, Chance made the peculiar decision to trade in the audacious for the austere, a move that kept his show as personable and palpable as ever, but not quite as exciting.
In his last Midland show — perhaps his best — Chance employed exuberant theatricism and whimsicality (the show featured a talking lion named Carlos, a virtual angel and a choir of Muppets, among other tricks) as brilliant auxiliaries to his gospel-tinged hip-hop showcase. This time however, he pared down the panache, choosing instead to rely on two other strengths: the sheer undeniablity of “Coloring Book,” and Chance’s own immense allure.
He’s made a habit of modeling himself as likable and approachable as possible — down to his trademarked pedestrian fit of white tee, overalls and trucker hat. Chance may be in million dollar video shoots with Justin Bieber and DJ Khaled and refer to Beyoncé as “Auntie Yoncé,” but the difference between him and his new-age rap contemporaries like, say, Lil Uzi Vert or A$AP Rocky, is his earnestness with establishing a simpatico with his fans. Whereas other artists work tirelessly to remind you how different they are from everyone else, Chance revels in connectivity.
That considered, the decision to give a subdued show was in itself a bold declaration. It pointed to Chance’s recognition and cognizance of how special a place he occupies in rap at the moment — he’s crafted an album, sorry, mixtape, so ubiquitous and a persona so alluring, he really doesn’t need to be flashy.
The music does the work.
There wasn’t a song played during his 90-minute set that more than half of the majority white amphitheater couldn’t recite, seemingly word for word (a feat in its own when you consider the fact Chance’s music, specifically “Coloring Book” is drenched in the gospel of the black church).
“I want to get to heaven, and I want you all to get there, too,” he said to the crowd as he filed through his discography, recalling cuts from his breakthrough 2013 mixtape “Acid Rap” (Pusha Man, Cocoa Butter Kisses, That’s My Jam), his 2015 The Social Experiment album “Surf” (Sunday Candy), and “Coloring Book” (Blessings, Angels, All Night, No Problems, Summer Friends, etc.).
Fittingly one of the highlights of the show came when Chance performed a stripped-down, near-unplugged version of his earth-shattering verse from his mentor Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” intro-track “Ultralight Beam.”
“You can feel the lyrics, the spirit coming in braille,” he rapped with a particular percussive ferociousness.
The line echoed the performance — and the night’s — overall aura: less spectacle, same spirit.
(But still, a few puppets wouldn’t have hurt).