The second the lights dimmed when The DAMN. Tour hit Brooklyn's Barclays Center on Thursday night (7/20), the big screen behind the stage starting playing a martial arts film introducing Kung Fu Kenny, Kendrick Lamar's new character on this year's DAMN. No preliminary DJ set, no hype man, no nothing -- just the film. It was brought to an abrupt end by pyrotechnics and the sound of an explosion, and then there was Kendrick standing on the stage, not making a sound. The now-infamous clip of Geraldo Rivera on Fox News started playing on the screen, and then Kendrick took it right into "DNA.," putting the packed arena into a frenzy that didn't die down once all night.

He kept the martial arts theme going all night, and had a few real-life martial artists performing moves on stage at times, but mostly his set was free of gimmicks. Stage banter was kept to a minimum, no guest rappers were on stage, he didn't rely on any giant props to keep the show more interesting (like, for example, the flying falcon that opener Travis Scott performed most of his set on). good kid, m.A.A.d city played out like a film in album form, To Pimp A Butterfly was a dense jazz-rap odyssey, but DAMN. proves Kendrick can also make a near-perfect album on just the strengths of his rhymes alone, and that was reinforced at Thursday night's show. He had an entire arena crowd in the palm of his hand, and did it by just getting on the mic and rapping.

The setlist was heaviest on DAMN. and good kid, m.A.A.d city, with just "King Kunta" and "Alright" from To Pimp A Butterfly, but for this show that made sense. The To Pimp A Butterfly material is layered with so much instrumentation, and this setlist focused on the songs that sound best with beats blasting over a PA. This time he didn't have a live band -- as far as the eye could see at least, some songs definitely had added live drums (though possibly pre-recorded) -- so it made sense to stick to the more straightforward songs. (UPDATE: A commenter points out that he did have a live band off to the side.) He worked in some other stuff too, like some untitled unmastered. material, his remix of Future's "Mask Off," and his Schoolboy Q collab "Collard Greens" (a song that sounds very good with its beat blasting over an arena's PA).

But truly the most magical moment, at least as far as I'm concerned, was set closer "HUMBLE." After doing huge favorites "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" and "Alright," the lights went down and it was back to the Kung Fu Kenny film playing on the screen. And then, similar to the beginning of the show, the screech from the beginning of "HUMBLE." shocked the room and Kendrick went into his first-ever #1 hit. Just in case you didn't already know what kind of impact that song has had, you'd know after seeing the Barclays Center crowd react to it. There are still people who will tell you he hasn't topped good kid, m.A.A.d city, but right now it looks like an arena's worth of fans go most nuts for the new stuff. After "HUMBLE." ended, it felt like the crowd couldn't ask for anything more. (Of course the crowd did ask for more, and Kendrick gave us an encore of the more low-key song "GOD.," a nice added bonus to an already-great show.)

Kendrick was clearly grateful for how far he's come, and mentioned quite a few times how good NYC has always been to him. He talked about coming here to play SOB's earlier on his career, and it's still kind of crazy to think that it was only six years ago that he was playing 200-person rooms in this city. (He also kept asking the crowd if we "remember" the good kid songs and, like, come on Kenny, at least play some Section.80 or Overly Dedicated if you're gonna ask that!)

Kendrick will be back at Barclays Center on Sunday (7/23), and he'll also be at Newark's Prudential Center on August 25 (tickets). All remaining dates are listed here.

Pictures of Thursday night's show coming very soon. Pictures from Thursday night's show and a few video clips are below.

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photos by P Squared

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