Review: In joyous return to Tampa, Kendrick Lamar and 13,000 fans deliver literally floor-shaking performance at Amalie Arena

Mr. Morale and his friends were feeling good last night.

click to enlarge Kendrick Lamar plays Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida on July 28, 2022. - Photo by Greg Noire
Photo by Greg Noire
Kendrick Lamar plays Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida on July 28, 2022.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or at least that’s what they say.

Kendrick Lamar’s new double album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, is his first outing since 2017’s Pulitzer-winning Damn.. And while there’s no doubt that fans have grown endeared to the 14-time Grammy winner since his last Tampa show at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre five years ago, the last half-decade has been turbulent at best for both the Compton rapper and his fanbase.

Mr. Morale wears all of that malaise, introspection and guttural pain on its sleeve, but Lamar’s nearly 100-minute set at Amalie Arena didn’t lean on the album’s insular nature in the slightest.

There were lulls, or breathers, mixed in for sure, especially when Lamar performed from a translucent cube on “Loyalty.,” “Rich Spirit” and “Mirror”—with the latter’s production featuring deep Timmy Thomas vibes, which were apropos for the Florida audience. Symbolism, veiled and more direct, to the themes of therapy, addiction, lust and toxic relationships were all peppered into the performance, but in its best moments, Lamar’s set for 13,000 Tampa fans was a party, or therapeutic catharsis if you need to get heady about it.

That much was evident as Lamar—dressed in the same suit he wore during the Super Bowl halftime show, plus encrusted sunnies—his band, and an eerie ventriloquist-style Kendrick doll pummeled its way through the drums on “United In Grief.”

By the next song, “N95,” a full mosh pit had opened up under the diamond-encrusted glove on Lamar’s left hand as he and fans screamed lyrics about destroying their idols. The body movement continued—thanks in large part to a troupe of 11 dancers—on cuts from Damn. (“Element.”) and Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (“Backseat Freestyle”) but crescendoed for the first time on “Humble.” as Lamar, at the piano for the second time during the set, and the band sent fans into a bounce to prevalent that it shook the floor in the lower promenade.

The ground moved again during “Alright” and “Family Ties,” which featured a guest spot from Lamar’s cousin (and show opener) Baby Keem, and while the turnt vibe was the hallmark of the set, Lamar's lyrical prowess never had to take a backseat.

There’s an eye-popping, breathtaking, quality to seeing the 35-year-old, in-person, reciting spitfire lyrics on a song like “Worldwide Steppers.” The performance made it easy to imagine the kind of revolutionary energy luminaries like Gil Scott-Heron brought to audiences seeing them work.

And there’s no denying that Lamar is a luminary of this generation. He’s the first rapper to win a Pulitzer. He performed inside the Louvre during a Louis Vuitton Fashion Week show. Last month at Glastonbury Festival, Lamar wore a titanium Tiffany & Co. one-off crown of thorns commissioned by himself and-longtime creative collaborator Dave Free; it featured 50 thorns fused into one piece before Italian artisans spent 10 months and 1,300 hours carefully adding 8,000 diamonds.

That kind of upward mobility is pretty impressive for anyone, let alone the Compton kid who comes from a generation of home invasions. It would take you 15 minutes of Googling to find another rapper, pop-star, or even dignitary who’s done that.

And for all of Lamar’s lyrics about there being no saviors or idols, he comes pretty damn close in the eyes of his fans. His music is painfully introspective; every album is a concept, and nearly every song has a premise that gets thoughtfully explored before the cut comes to a close. His convictions aren’t ambiguous, and shrugs off the impulse to crucify others for their bad choices in favor of recognizing the things that’ve broken humanity, then embracing the processes we must take to fix ourselves.

In the moments before his nearly 30-song set, a recorded skit ran. Its takeaway was a message to fans, imploring them to invest in themselves. And while the investment to get into the concert (seats in section 101 were going for about $260 in the hours before the show), may rattle the pocketbooks of some, the ROI last night was probably worth it.

On “Crown,” with Lamar back at piano, he sang about the symbiotic nature of relationships, and the potential toxicity of doing favors for another person, before landing on the lyric, “you can’t please everybody.”

He’s absolutely right. And while his haters may be few and far between these days, what happened at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night was more than enough for both Lamar and his fanbase.

To close out the evening, Lamar went back to the piano for the final bars of “Savior” where he asked the audience “are you happy for me?”

They surely are. But Lamar—who wore the absolute biggest smile as the upright piano descended into the stage to end show—seems happy for himself these days. That’s a big step for him, and for all intents and purposes, is a big morale boost for fans looking to make it through this world, too.

United In Grief
Worldwide Steppers
Backseat Freestyle
Rich Spirit
Father Time
m.A.A.d city
Purple Hearts
King Kunta
Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe
Die Hard
Count Me Out
Money Trees
Silent Hill
Family Ties (w/ Baby Keem)

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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