The vast stage of Spark arena was bare. Pushed unceremoniously to the sides was a live band, arranged in profile so you couldn't really make out too much of what they were doing or even how many musicians there were. A giant screen projected a hazy, deep red sun. And a ninja swung an extremely pointy blade with careless precision.

Yes, a ninja.

Last night Kendrick Lamar put on one helluva show. Along with the ninja there were pyrotechnics galore, which saw the back of the stage regularly erupting in flame, a choreographed kung-fu fight and a whole lot of impressive visuals that showed everything from retro karate films to King Kong to American news reports on police brutality.

But mostly it was all Lamar. By rights he should have been dwarfed by that vast, empty stage. Instead he prowled and strutted and jumped around, making it look like it could barely contain him.


As for the sold out crowd, well, they could barely contain themselves. At times, like on the infectiously bouncy King Kunta, the woozy B**ch, Don't Kill My Vibe and the staunchly sparse Element, it resembled a raucous block party that had swelled to encompasses the whole neighbourhood.

Right from the deep opening bass thump of DNA, which kicked off the show, the crowd were on their feet, waving their hands (and phones) in the air.

There was a bit of a 'will they/won't they'? moment over whether the full voiced punters would sing-along to some of Lamar's more troublesome lyrics. It appeared that a lot of folk didn't get the memo that they should leave certain n-words out, obliviously chanting along at the top of their lungs.

For an artist renowned for his deep, thoughtful lyrics it was a disappointment that it was hard to make him out at times. The show was louder than bombs, even sounding like a few dropped at times to startling effect, but his vocals occassionally felt smeared with fuzzy distortion.

Similarly the band's volume got turned up to 11 and stayed there, which sort of evened all their parts out. You could see his guitarist wailing away but you had to strain to hear what he was doing over the block of noise.

This sometimes worked in the show's favour, the blaring sirens of HUMBLE being a screeching highlight. And when the entire arena was singing along to hits like All the Stars no one really gave a damn about anything other than adding their voice to the chorus around them.

There was a classic rock 'n' roll gaffe near the end of the night when, in a rare address to the audience, Lamar gave a shout out to "Auckland, Australia". But by that stage people were so onboard and having such a big night that he could have asked everyone to rip up their passports, pledge allegiance to the kangaroo and put another shrimp on the barbie and they would have.

It was a huge show, relentlessly paced with as many hits crammed in as he could manage. How good was it? Damn good.

* Kendrick Lamar plays his final New Zealand show at Spark Arena tonight.