When critics and fans look back at Yeezus 10 years from now, it's likely that we'll remember the tour almost as much as the album itself, basically for the same reason…both seemed to be equal parts genius and bat shit crazy. Any eyebrow raising reactions created by listening to Kanye West's latest offering were only heightened by the performance he's cranked out on this tour, which stopped in Anaheim last Friday after the original November date was rescheduled.
From the beginning, the religious overtones of the album were amplified even more by the presence of a giant mountain at the center of the main stage and a couple cameos from a bearded, white Jesus. Ye's frustration on the album about the media's portrayal of him was read loud and clear by his decision to cover his face with one sparkly Luchador mask after the other for almost the entire show. Well, that and his long-winded rant in the middle of the set that lasted well over 10 minutes, in which he compared himself to everyone from Walt Disney to Michelangelo. And whether you felt empowered or awkward listening to “New Slaves,” going to see it performed live probably only solidified those feelings for you as Kanye balanced on the tip of a wobbly elevating stage hovering in the center of a standing crowd. Add in a group of 12 semi-nude back up performers, some fire balls, fake snow and a cadre of old hits that we know and love, and you end up with an amazingly head scratching show.
Upon its release in June, Yeezus was marked by a willful disregard for radio-friendly jams, which could've easily made for an audience that was willing to cheer, but not scream his verses at the top of their lungs. West disproved that theory early, starting his two -and-a-half hour show with album opener “On Sight,” as laser zaps, white noise and synth percussion filled the arena whose recitation of the words got the Honda Center shaking like Parkinson's.
Throughout the performance, the giant circular screen fixed above the stage mountain like a halo projected a cloudy, dark storm system that mimicked the energy of the album and at certain intervals in the show flashed the words “Fighting,” “Rising,” “Falling,” “Searching” and “Finding,” with definitions that no doubt combined Webster's with West's to create these chapters in the performance that seemed to only partially tie in to the song s that were performed in between them. Mostly the screen just allowed us to see what was going on while Kanye writhed on the floor with his 12 performers.
Dressed in nude-colored unitards with nipple pasties and pantyhose over their faces, his strange muses were a sight to see. Whether they were creating a Lemming train behind Kanye, sparking up flares, wrestling each other or constructing themselves into a human throne for J-Hova to sit on, we were glad to see them putting their years of performance art training to good use.
Several times during the show, West's island stage in the center of the crowd tilted up almost 45 degrees to where he could loom over the audience as he rapped the verses on songs like "Cant Tell Me Nothing.” And even though he probably couldn't see the fans staring up at him in awe with his face covered, West reciprocated the energy while managing not to lose his balance.
One character in the show was also accustomed to life on the edge was the strange, red eyed Muppet wolf that lurked onto the scene midway through the set and skulked around on the ledge of the mountain, staring at West the whole time. Thinking about what that wolf guy must've gotten paid to sit there the entire show and just try not to fall, we have to give it up to yet another performance artist who somehow landed the jackpot of gigs. As if that weren't enough, Ye's performance required another silent performer during his rendition of "Heartless”–this time a young woman with a floor length wonder weave that seemed to cover her naughty bits as she walked out from the mountain to the center stage, only to give us a turn and then pretty just much walk back.
Though the vague attempts at symbolism kept us the crowd engaged, the theatrics got a little tedious by the middle when it was clear as fans who came for the music started to sit down and wait for West to get all this other stuff out of the way (including the rant he likes to do during the show that's become a hallmark of the tour while he paced around in a trench coat and a white mask and proclaimed how he's arrogant to outsmart the media and how he should be allowed to sell his Yeezey sneakers to the world. Sigh. Ok.
But after braving that part of the show, the payoff was about a half hour of hits most people wanted to hear, i.e. "Run Away,” abbreviated versions of the "The Wire,” and "Diamonds of Sierra Leone,” "Stronger,” and a harrowing performance of "Blood on the Leaves,” with pyro, fire balls and the sample of Nina Simone's voice cracking like lightning.
Of course the show couldn't end without Yeezy taking his damn, mask off, something only white Jesus could compel him to do when he came out to kneel with him. We imagine there was a quiet exchanging of props between the two Chosen Ones. The final salvo of songs brought us back to what a Kanye show circa Late Registration which the crowd was ecstatic to see before he left the stage to the tune of Bound 2 and disappeared into the cracked, glowing mountain, leaving the Honda Center a lot weirder than when he found it.
Critical Bias: I wasn't big fan of Yeezus, though I was hoping it would grow on me by seeing the show–the show grew on me faster than the album.
Crowd: Lots of young hotties in all black everything.
Overheard: "This song is touching me in so many places right now,” [someone sitting behind me during "Blood on the Leaves”]
Random Notebook Dump: I didn't expect to see many celebs in the crowd, but Zack Effron was definitely in the house…so, yay?
Send It Up
Mercy / Power
I Don't Like (Chief Keef cover)
Clique / Black Skinhead
I Am a God
Can't Tell Me Nothing
Hold My Liquor
I'm in It
Blood on the Leaves
Lost in the World
Through the Wire (abbreviated)
Diamonds from Sierra Leone (abbreviated)
All of the Lights