September 3, 2011
The Stages At Playa Vista, Los Angeles
To love a Kanye West performance, the audience has to buy into the spectacle of it all– to abandon the notion that there is any performer, even mentor and recent album collaborator Jay-Z, who can rival Kanye's flow, swagger, production and all-around musical artistry; to become necessarily forgetful of powerhouse performers of old, and young up-and-coming hitmakers. It's all eyes on Ye.
Otherwise, the show becomes little more than a constant clash between the audience's and performer's egos and undoubtedly–as Kanye thrashes and screams unintelligbly for minutes at the end of “Love Lockdown” while strobe lights go off around him–the performer always wins.
On Saturday, Ye's audience appeal was further hamstringed by the performance's inclusion in Activision's Call of Duty XP — a fan experience where the third COD was set to debut and players could compete for a $1 million prize (So,why was Ye there to begin with? COD soldiers don't wear Louis Vuitton). A majority of the fans were there to shoot rounds, not listen to Ye spit lines. To make it even weirder — this marked Kanye's first performance since Watch the Throne dropped.
So, for the COD crowd, Kanye's loud proclamations of superiority went over with mixed results. Some, like me, had come to see the self-proclaimed king of the game and were similarly afflicted in their dress–decked out in kitten heels and too-short dresses. Others had come primarily for the game play, and stood around watching the performance with mixed feelings of amusement and apathy, with COD merch strapped to their backs.
Not that it mattered to Kanye, who was seemingly oblivious to the mixed intentions of the crowd. As the bright aquamarine lights that spelt “Act 1” faded (there were three Acts total), the hook for “Dark Fantasy” began and people streamed into the giant warehouse (which was divided into three sections, based on the wristband you had, with giant screens suspended over each). Ye rose slowly out of the ground infront of a dramatic statuesque background of a Grecian woman. The Louis Vuitton Don was dressed in an all-ivory suit, as pearly clouds of steam billowed from the floor beneath him, giving the impression that he was a white-hot diety blessing worshipers with his presence.
The beat to “Power” dropped and Kanye began to yell. “No one man should have all that power!” Kanye shouted, as the stage turned a red hue and his nude-toned feathered dancers moved rapidly around on stage in a style could only be best described as “sexy interpretive dance,” flailing, sacrificing, and wrestling eachother for a chance in Ye's spotlight, facial expressions twisted with exaggerated emotion.
Visually, Kanye's performance was most impressive during songs off of his latest solo album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, where a bouncy Kid Cudi joined Ye on stage for his feature in the explosive “All of the Lights” and black-clad ballerinas contorted themselves into grotesque shapes for “Runaway” while yellow fireworks shot out of the stage. As a producer, Kanye's hand could be seen in every aspect of his show — the way the ballerinas moved, how the forrest green lights twisted, curled and fanned out over the crowd in “Flashing Lights” and even his (almost unnoticeable) outfit change from a white blazer to a cardinal red one. Though Kanye may not excersize restraint in his personal life, the musician is well-versed in the power of minimalistic imagery — in a time when most rapper utilize over-the-top lighting and scantily clad women, Ye has opted for a far classier route. To emphasize this, all of Kanye's performers joined him on stage at the close of his performance — and hand-in-hand, they took a bow to sonorous applause.
Not to say that Ye has checked his ego. “Is there any concert that has this many hits back-to-back?” Ye asked absurdly mid-performance, as the time creeped on and I started to become aware of just how ridiculous my attire was (Ferragamo heels and a full-on dress, no thanks to covering the red carpet).
And though the night was dominated by Kanye's newer hits (“Heartless”, “Stronger”, “American Boy”, “Monster”, and the aforementioned hits off MBDTF) he suddenly stopped the crowd's movement at the end of “Home Again” and informed them that he's “going to take it a little farther back than that.” Then, the chipmunkish singing of Ye's debut single “Through the Wire” started and he began to spit rhymes.
The golden era Kanye's early rap–back when he laughed at players who rhymed about money, hoes and rims, back when Jesus walked, before the flashing lights, gold diggers and blonde dykes–filled the warehouse. All around me, concertgoers threw their hands up in Kanye's signature diamond and I found myself mimicking them, whipping around with as much energy as my slinky dress allowed (What can I say? Yeezy taught me).
“They can't stop me from rapping can they?” Kanye gasped into the microphone, taken back to that life-altering day in the hospital almost a decade past — when the man found his calling, and the producer became the rapper.
Critic's Bias: I own every Kanye West album in full–save 808s and Heartbreak, which I consider to be a low point in Ye's career.
The Crowd: Half-hot, half-nerdy–with very little overlap in the two.
Overheard in the Crowd:
“We're still here Kanye …”
“Well if you liked that and you like Jay -Z, you should get Watch the Throne. I haven't listened to it, but it's supposed to be amazing.”
“Well the concert started at 9:40, so …”
Random notebook dump: Kanye West and Kid Cudi should make more songs together.
Can't Tell Me Nothing
Diamonds From Sierra Leone
Hell of a Life
Say You Will
Swagga Like Us (Jay-Z)
Run This Town (Jay-Z)
(Part of Queen's “We Will Rock You” plays) E.T. (Katy Perry)
American Boy (Estelle)
Through the Wire
All Falls Down
Touch the Sky
All of the Lights
Lost In The World