The evening's first opening act, OVO signing PartyNextDoor (a.k.a. 20-year-old Toronto native Jahron Brathwaite) delivered a few of his Weeknd-esque R&B songs in his allotted 10 minutes, including "Welcome To The Party." It was a perfect song to kick off the monstrous birthday bash. Future was up next, and for 20 minutes, he and the DJ/hypeman warmed up the crowd that was still filing in so early, giving love to Drake's city and country. Both support artists were given a tiny portion of the massive stage, which remained hidden behind a black curtain until the guest of honor emerged.
Miguel was given a bit more stage space to accommodate a full band, and also had his own bells and whistles — a light show and a trap door from which he rose wearing a fringe black jacket and shades. A contemporary cross between Prince and James Brown with his own flair, Miguel carried himself like a star for 40 minutes with assurance in every move, whether simply striding around the stage, reaching to the ceiling, crouching down to the audience or falling to his knees.
And in another nod to OVO, an O-shaped lighting rig in the rafters and an O-shaped stage, the O sloped at an angle, providing a circular ramp for its star and a pit for the live band. As 10 p.m. approached, the house went dark and a bit of Drake's "Tuscan Leather" began, the birthday boy appearing at the very back, at the top of the O. Wearing a loose black jacket, grey sleeveless tee and pants, he launched into "Headlines" and "Crew Love" before doffing his jacket to shrieks.
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"My name is Aubrey Drake Graham," he said. "I was born on October 24, 1986 and I was born in the greatest fuckin' city in the world." For the next 90 minutes, he did repeatedly praise Toronto, as he always does onstage, in interviews and in his lyrics. At one point he even talked us through highway and street directions to further ingratiate himself ("I could take the 401 west to Hurontario"). Then he had to say what we all knew:"Tonight happens to be a special night for me. It happens to be my birthday. So if you try to have a little party with me, turn it up and make some noise."
Besides brief guest appearances by Future on "Same Damn Time" and "Tony Montana" and the lovely Jhené Aiko on "Come Thru" and "From Time," this one artist took control of an arena, his live band barely visible, except for some tops of heads. Even his image as 'regular guy at the gym,' no gigantic gaudy jewelry or overblown bravado and posing. In fact, at times onstage Drake seemed giddy with happiness, jumping up and down and beaming, far from a too-cool-for-school rapper.
The set was hefty and included medley and full numbers, among them "Pop That," "No New Friends," "Fuckin' Problems," "Nothing Was the Same," "Furthest Thing," "Wu-Tang Forever," "Versace," "The Motion," and "Pound Cake." There was a short interlude, during which a DJ actually played Drake hits, before the rapper emerged in a pastel ensemble with a beach scene on the shirt for "Hold On, We're Going Home." At this point he mentioned his birthday again — heck, there's only an hour to go until midnight — and gave the crowd what he called "our anthem," "Worst Behaviour."
"The Language" followed and then the music track of "305 To My City" played quietly as Drake walked onto an immense O-shaped catwalk that ascended high into the air. With lights on, he then spent 13 minutes on the structure, pointing out dozens of people all over the audience. Sometimes, he spotted someone he knew like his teacher who helped him graduate high school. He also gave a shout out to his mom.
Back on solid ground, Drake blew out the candles on the night with "Started From the Bottom," as sparks flew and fireworks popped, culminating in one ear-popping explosion. Standing at the top of the O, taking it all in, he said, "Toronto, I want to thank you for giving me the best birthday that I've ever had in my life, I swear… I'm only looking to get bigger and to get better for the sake of our city…For the first time in my life, I'm at a loss for words, man. I guess I'll see you all at OVO Fest."