Living and loving Loud at the Bell Centre

A review of last night’s arena show, the first of two by the Keb rap star.

The truest measure of success for an artist might not be a sold-out headlining arena show.

Sure, executing one’s vision down to the last detail on every front and bringing it to the public on such an undeniable scale that fans pack a space larger than an airplane hangar to celebrate with you must be a rush.

But it’s when shady entrepreneurs shamelessly sell cheapo, knock-off merch with poorly pixelated renderings of your image and brand logo outside the venue that you really know you’ve made it.

As Quebec-bred hip hop don Loud basks today in the well-earned glory of an unprecedented accomplishment of being the first-ever rappeur de chez nous to take the honour of filling the Bell Centre to the rafters, after night one of a two-night stand at the iconic Montreal house of fame, he may disagree with me, but I’m sure we’re square on this point: “These things, they take time.”

And that, he did. From top to bottom, the highly conceived show he created to knock the legions of Loud faithful gathered in to adore had the look, feel, pace and sound that young MCs everywhere dream about from the moment they start rapping in their childhood bedroom mirror, dreaming of one day standing in front of their hometown crowd as rap royalty.

It’s not the first or last time he’s done it, but last night he took the crown to heights that no one — no matter how many more are inspired to try — will ever again be able to reach for, and wore it like he crafted it himself by the time the crowd was yelling back a chorus of “long live the King,” from “Longues vie,” a centrepiece of his brand new and aptly titled record Tout Ça Pour Ça.

Emerging from the cockpit of an airplane perched on a towering riser, hovering over a flossed-out DJ booth manned by longtime collaborator and beat-slayer Ajust and a lower stage set-up complete with a catwalk reaching out to the middle of the floor, Loud (donned head to toe in all-white-everything) gave “capacité” new meaning. A star wasn’t born in that moment, but was rather about to come crashing down to Earth and scorch it.

The 90-minute set packed in as many triumphant songs from the new jawn as well as 2017’s Une année record as fans could reasonably expect, and while I was too busy admiring the whole affair to take specific notes on the track selection, Loud rolled out his considerable catalogue of knockin’, single-ready cuts as if to narrate his ascension to the throne.

But he couldn’t have done it all alone. In 2012, when the nascent “Keb rap” movement began to take hold, he and cohorts Lary Kidd and the aforementioned Ajust came straight outta Gullywood with a weirded out velocity owing as much to Nirvana as to UGK and Run DMC, three white boys with looks, attitudes and sensibilities as divergent as their name — simply, Loud Lary Ajust — suggested.

“Toute bonne chose ont un début,” Loud knows, and squad goals were met full circle when Lary joined his homies on their stage to share in the success story they set out to tell back when, doubtlessly matching heartbeats when the two rappers hugged it out while taking it “Off the Grid.”

Joining them for a cameo was also Dead Obie 20some, and later on we’d be privy to a brief audience with Queb pop queen Coeur de Pirate. But a true and real highlight of the evening was, without prejudice, when shining light Charlotte Cardin joined Loud for a moving performance piece of haunting heartbreaker “Sometimes, All the Time,” the soundtrack to every love gone wrong in the history of romance.

All of these fine folks deserve nothing but the “Salles combles” they’ve routinely enjoyed since their respective and respectable emergences. And I’d be remiss not to give a nod to the production power of Ruffsound, present in the lovely bass, drums and fabled “pius” the city has arguably never heard quite so crisply, in the belly of Centre Bell, of all places. The sound was impeccable. No joke. Rarely have the speaker stacks in the arena performed quite so clearly, an achievement in and of itself.

By encore time, when a pyro display during “Devenir Immortel” proved that Loud is far, far from needing to borrow gas money from anyone, ever again — confidence had become carnage, and the rapper quite literally blew up the stage to take it out with an explosive crash-landing that will only burn brighter tonight when he does it again tonight.

And if you’re going, I’m jealous. In the likelihood that it sells out again — last night’s attendance numbers for the amphitheatre-scaled room reportedly topped 8,000 — know that, just like the bootleg merch trolls roaming the grounds, scalpers with calls of “Loud, tickets, tickets” are as present as they would be for any other top-notch player in the game.

As for me, if I don’t decide to head back (which I probably will), I’ll at least cherish the memory with my reduced-rate, last minute clearance five-dollar Loud t-shirt.

J’suis tellement pas sortable. ■