Sasquatch 2015, Day 4: Kendrick Lamar

Sasquatch, Live Reviews
Jacob Webb
photos by Matthew B. Thompson

The most anticipated performance of the weekend was also the most divisive, and as the biggest audience of the weekend walked away from the Gorge one last time, everyone had something to say about Kendrick Lamar's closing set. As the first show played since the release of his instant classic To Pimp A Butterfly, more than a few eyes were on Sasquatch, wondering how Kendrick would pull off its challenging, jazz-driven songs. In the end, the answer to that questions was that he didn't pull them off – he didn't really even try. Aside from "Alright", one of the most conventional songs on Butterfly, the set was more or less the same set he's been playing for two years, meaning that it was an hour of hits (read: all of the songs) from 2012's universally acclaimed good kid, m.A.A.d city. To be fair, it's the best execution of that show that this writer has seen in his four times seeing Kendrick, but considering the game-changing nature of Butterfly, it seemed bewildering, if not contradictory, that Kendrick would play it so safe. His repeated mentions of how he wanted the show "to be a party" seemed to kill any hope of hearing "Wesley's Theory", "u", "These Walls", or any of the other songs on the year's most confrontational album. He didn't play the upbeat singles "i" or "King Kunta", or even mention the album. Admittedly, Butterfly is not a "party" album in the least, and to perform racially-charged, self- and other-accusatory catharses to 30,000 (mostly) white people takes a lot of guts, but that bravery in the face of ugly truths is what makes To Pimp a Butterfly such a moving, singular piece of art. Kendrick's closing performance was certainly a crowd-pleaser – even a quick glimpse at the erupting, packed pit would confirm that – but it came at the expense of ignoring the last two years of his artistic work – good but not great, entertaining but not thrilling. Considering Kendrick's status as hip-hop's most toured major player, it's not impossible to imagine him putting on a game-changing performance one day. At Sasquatch, however, the audience had to settle for the hits and the road-tested moves that made him King Kendrick in the first place, which isn't bad, but it ultimately means Kendrick's next move as a live performer is still to be seen.

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