Words by Bryan Kalbrosky • Photos by Todd Cooper
J. Cole came to Eugene to launch his “2014 Forest Hills Drive” tour on Monday night, and the show became more than just an early local favorite for concert of the year.
Fans who have followed Cole since the beginning, as well as people who only discovered the North Carolina-born rapper earlier this week, will likely share an opinion about this show. It was, without question, an instant classic. Heck, Cole’s memorable performance even made a strong case as frontrunner for best hip-hop show in Eugene’s recent history.
“Do you wanna, do you wanna be happy?” Cole sang, starting out the set. The tempo picked up with an onset of the horns.
It was interesting to note that the show began with an “intro” track, rather than one of his more popular hits — one of many successful, bold decisions that fans would come to expect from Cole during the show. The crowd rewarded him by throwing their arms in the air when he asked, and by jumping when told to jump.
“Eugene!” shouted Cole, as the immediate rush of screaming fans drowned the speakers at McDonald Theatre. “Tonight is a special night. It’s the very first night of the Forest Hills tour.
Cole announced that during this show, he would perform every single song off his newest album: 2014 Forest Hills Drive — a risky move, as artists don’t usually show all their cards at the beginning of a tour.
Cole, however is one of the more honest, conversational performers in the rap game right now. His onstage presence feels cinematic. He boasts the charisma of a man traveling the world, sharing all types of stories.
“We’re going all around the world: Switzerland, Sweden and Poland. We’re going to places I’d never dreamed about seeing in my life, and we started here,” he told the crowd.
Gone were the fancy lights, and anything that would add an unnecessary layer to the production value of the evening. Cole spent much show interacting with the crowd, and performed much of the show from a stool at centerstage.
“I’m trying to go to little towns, where I can see every face in the crowd,” explained Cole, who heavily promoted hometowns (the creative inspiration for the album) all night.
Cole’s most impressive performance was likely during “No Role Models” when everyone shouted the chorus: “Don’t save her, she don’t want to be saved.”
He displayed his most impressive showmanship during the song “G.O.M.D.” and made sure that every one in the venue knew that they were watching (as Andre 3000 from Outkast once described him) a show from “Hollywood Cole.”
About halfway through his performance, however, Cole took a break from his newer music and showed some love to his original classics. The crowd lost their mind when they were met with older hits like “Lights Please,” as well as his song with Drake, “In The Morning,” and “Workout” from radio fame.
Shortly after, Cole returned to the album and finished the second half of the tracks to close his set. “Love Yourz” was a favorite, with lots of heartfelt emotion filling the venue
The encores for the night were “Can’t Get Enough” which led into a particularly dope rendition of “Crooked Smile” from Born Sinner (2013). He ended the night with “Power Trip” (also from Born Sinner), and Cole asked for management to turn on all the lights.
Cole looked out at the audience and people showed their appreciation — some screamed with gratitude, while others flashed the artist from the balcony. But everyone that stayed for the entire show got a remarkable reward:
“Would you believe me if I said I’m in love?” sang Cole from “Power Trip” as the entire audience joined in.
Dreamville labelmates Omen, Cozz and Bass opened the show.