By Daniel Paiz
There is so much to unpack from this concert, and that’s why Mr. Morale is a step above the rest. Kendrick Lamar’s “The Big Steppers Tour” shuffles into Denver Tuesday night at Ball Arena, and that crowd was ready for the marathon production Lamar eagerly unveiled. Baby Keem and Tanna Leone got the crowd moving, as the crowd seemed to appreciate Leone and were wildly enthused for Keem’s set. Both sets were somewhat forgotten though by the end of the night.
Many tracks from the 2022 album were played in their entirety, with favorites from Lamar’s catalogue jumped into the production and honestly sounded different in the context of this newest album. It’s as if when reflecting on one’s faults and shortcomings, those songs take on different meanings. The meanings didn’t change a lot for songs like “We Gon’ Be Alright” or “Loyalty”, but even they felt slightly altered.
I Got a Fever, and the only cure is… more puppet?
The puppet hasn’t been a secret over the course of this tour, but it’s a bit unexpected and drew my curiosity the minute I heard about it. This puppet was a lookalike to Lamar and joined in when onstage; their appearance could’ve meant a multitude of things. Unfortunately for those interested, the puppet made but a cameo, starting out the newest album’s opening song “United in Grief”. The puppet rapped along with Kendrick for parts of the song, but as the chorus and each verse came and went, the amount of puppet rapping decreased to none.
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a very personal and reflective album, likely Kendrick’s most personal to date. The puppet could be a double entendre in physical form. Primarily, it serves as a tool or stand-in for Kendrick to share his feelings, faults and more. This then allows Lamar to ease into sharing such personal reflections. However, it could also be a larger critique on the world around us today. Those shortcomings and flaws which you and I do not work on then dictate our decisions. Flaws become a puppet master of sorts for our lives until we do so.
Kendrick’s exemplary verses over the course of this album reflects that, where at times he plays the role of someone who doesn’t believe in therapy or working through one’s problems. When rhyming as himself he does believe but works on issues incompletely. There’s also the societal level perspective in that the audience or listeners to music could be puppets to the puppet masters that advise us what to listen to. When Lamar briefly played the role of conductor as the song after “United in Grief” started, this to me indicated he was playing about being our puppet master for the night (although one could also take it as a critique of how easy it is to tell crowds what to do).
The box in which we place ourselves
The stage box entrapping Kung Fu Kenny during “We Gon’ Be Alright” also could’ve been a host of critiques on society today. The narrator for the night, a British woman (rumored to be Helen Mirren), advised Lamar he was to be tested for COVID-19. So, the most likely thing was simply stating our ability to have survived COVID-19 for the most part. There’s also the whole surviving Big Pharma, the divide that followed getting or not getting vaccines, and how much more polarized people became due to being shut off from each other during the pandemic.
Another idea that permeated my mind over the course of this show was platforms that rose and at times had a similar appearance to watch towers. In particular the idea of a panopticon, which is a method of monitoring a large group of prisoners or the public without it being known when said surveillance is happening. For this show, it connects the idea that the audience and society in general watches those with celebrity and in the limelight, but Kendrick reminded viewers it’s a two-way viewpoint. This part was likely a secondary idea from Lamar, as the songs and performance focused on self, relationships, and trust over larger societal commentary.
There was such a dynamic feel to the set due in part to the movement of the stages. There were smaller stages created with platforms and lights from above moved in a certain manner. There was a fluidity to these stages that greatly accompanied the consciousness of the production. That’s what made this feel like art and were moments captured from Lamar’s mind for all of us to view.
This show is difficult to give any descriptors to that fully envelops what was witnesses this Tuesday eve. If this tour is scheduled to stop in your city in the near future, it is recommended you check it out. This performance will be reflected on further to see where in my top 10 concerts of all time it lands.