I’m not going to claim to be a genius, or to have a familiar relationship with Jesus, but I think I may have a touch of something — a gift of some kind. How else would you explain my prediction, weeks before the damaged LED screen, that the “Yeezus Tour” would not be making a stop in Denver? Sure, the Pepsi Center had been booked, tickets had been sold, and the shirts had been screen printed with the November 3rd date, but some nagging voice in my head assured me that Kanye West would once again shun the Mile High City. When the Living Social offer hit my inbox, I knew that voice was the truth. A convenient “accident” led to a period of postponement, and that postponement led to the inevitable headline, “Kanye West cancels Denver show at the Pepsi Center”.
I can’t say I blame the guy. I’m not sure he ever had a huge fanbase here in Colorado, and his latest antics in the press haven’t done him any good in terms of public relations, so why bring a production as big as “Yeezus” to a city where many people refer to you as an assclown? You could argue that Jay-Z still came out for his fans despite lackluster ticket sales, but when tickets are practically being given away, you have to question if it’s all worth it. You also have to question the choice of venue. I realize these guys are big names, but sooner or later they are going to have to stand up from that throne and realize they might be better suited for smaller venues — at least in these smaller markets.
Jay-Z’s show could probably fit in a 1stBank Center, or even a Fillmore, but when you have a giant mountain, a 60-foot screen, a full band, nude women, a furry demon, pyrotechnic flames, a guest appearance by Jesus himself, and an ego as big Kanye West’s, I guess no arena is really big enough. That is why I found myself at the Sprint Center in Kansas City on a Tuesday night. There might have only been 12,000 people in the 19,000 person venue, but the 5-act production seemed to occupy every square inch of the arena. Say what you will about Kanye West, the man is a born performer.
Standing among the few thousand on the floor, near the point of the triangular stage extension, it was very clear that I was among like-minded individuals. Those of us that made the effort to not only attend this show, but to stand around the stage for a few hours, were true fans of “Kanye West the Artist”. We believe in the man who continues to push boundaries when it comes to entertainment. He might not be the best rapper in the world (that debate could go on for years), but he is the most exciting producer and entertainer in large-format hip-hop. Yeezus might not have sold as well as his College Trilogy, but it is arguably one of his best albums to date. While so many hip-hop artists are regurgitating the same crap every year, and packaging it as something fresh, Kanye pushes his own abilities (and the listener’s ability to adapt) with every release. You could say his new style is ripping off underground artists like Death Grips and Clipping, but at least you know Kanye is aware of those artists. He has his finger on the pulse of culture and he has an uncanny ability to paint the future in his own likeness. His biggest problem is that “Kanye West the Person” gets in the way. Those of us in attendance last night were talking about the Artist, but we were the small minority. The world outside the Sprint Center was talking about the Person — the Person who married a reality tv personality…the Person who attacks radio DJs…the Person who defends idiotic statements via Twitter…the Person who makes outrageous claims. The Person who really does come off as an assclown.
Fortunately for us, for two hours on a Tuesday night, we were in the presence of the Artist. And holy shit what an Artist he is! It might seem pretentious to position yourself on top of a mountain, or to be carried around by a throng of faceless women, or to wear a mask through two-thirds of your performance (only to remove it when Jesus takes the stage), but it doesn’t come across that way when you are in it. The argument could be made that all the theatrics were only elaborate distractions. But that argument would only be valid if the music wasn’t so powerful. Kanye West does have to be the center of attention, even if he keeps his face hidden, but that doesn’t mean he was up there alone. His DJ and band were there, and although they were hidden in the scenery, they could be heard loud and clear. Their presence made the arena pregnant with sound — filling it to the rafters and out to the concession stands — looking for a way to escape to the streets of KC. Anyone who has been to a hip-hop show can attest to how rare good sound is, especially in an arena.
The performance itself was broken into five parts (Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching, Finding), each introduced on the LED screen with a definition and a quote. The show started with “Fighting”. This act introduced the mountain, the faceless girls and some of the more aggressive material from Yeezus. Kanye spent the entire act in a tie-dyed shirt and an ornate mask covered in dangling chains and colorful jewels. He spent most of this time out on the extension, among the crowd. “Fighting” started out with “On Sight” and ended with “Mercy” — it was a perfect run to get the crowd’s blood flowing.
The second act, “Rising”, warned “…the bigger the ego, the harder the fall”, so it was appropriate that it found a shirtless Kanye belting “Power” out from the top the mountain. A black mask and a heavy gold chain were all we could see through the fog at the summit, but the message was clear…he had “all that power!”. Although, it really didn’t take very long for him to come back down to Earth. After all the chest pounding through “Black Skinhead” and “I Am A God”, the middle stage rose into the air like a giant iceberg and Kanye let the air out of his ego — admitting that he was naive when he wrote “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” — leading us to glimpse his vulnerable side when he performed “Coldest Winter” — a song he wrote when he received the news of his mother’s passing. Laying on the peak of the iceberg, he delivered this highlight from 808’s & Heartbreak while fake snow fell from the ceiling.
The red-eyed female demon was stalking the stage before the fall, but it wasn’t until we made our way into “Falling” that she really made her presence known. Casting dark shadows from the mount to the iceberg and back, always haunting Kanye from a not-so-safe distance. This act showcased some of Kanye’s darkest work. The demon and the nameless long-haired woman during “Heartless” were obvious references to women who played a part in his downfall, but the faceless nudes became more sinister as well. When he was being carried around by them, it didn’t seem like they were trying to raise him above his problems, it seemed more like they were carrying him to some sacrificial site. This was probably my least favorite act when it came to song selection, but the use of the nudes was incredible. At one point they created a circle around Kanye, which was then projected on the round screen above, creating one of the greatest visuals of the whole performance. It was also in this act when the mountain started exploding, essentially turning it into an active volcano with molten lava flowing down the sides.
After hitting rock bottom, Kanye went in search of something to save his soul. The “Searching” act only contained two songs — the heavily Auto-Tuned singles “Lost in the World” and “Runaway”– but it also included what has been referred to as the “Dream Rant”. During the long “Runway” outro, Kanye sang/spoke about the mistakes he’s made in the media — about saying the wrong things and having to read about them on the Internet the next day. He talked about striving to be somebody like Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein, but being told he can’t dream. He spoke about a lot of things, but he was still masked (a white mask, my favorite) and his speech was drown out by girls yelling “show us your face!”. Despite introducing some visually stunning religious elements, and one of my favorite songs, this section did drag on for a little too long and the audience started to get restless. But patience was to be rewarded in the next (and final) act.
The final act was one of redemption. After turning the place into a club with “Stronger” (in a disco ball mask), the mountain cracked open and Jesus literally walked onto the stage. Once Yeezus met Jesus, he could finally remove his last mask and show his face to this fans. This (of course) led us into “Jesus Walks”, but at this point no one was following the story anymore. It was hit time. “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, “Flashing Lights”, “All of The Lights”, “Good Life” and “Bound 2”. Kanye West had broken character and become just a rapper. The place was going insane — people were screaming and singing along so loud that they didn’t notice that the sound balance was somewhat off now. The faceless females were at the party as well…they were lighting the mountain on fire! Who knew Jesus was such a party starter? Kanye actually cracked a smile. He was down among the people, shaking hands and looking uncharacteristically humble.
At the end of it all, Jesus had replaced Yeezus at the top of the mountain. The faceless women, now draped in white, joined Kanye on the stage extension. They all turned toward the Savior and bowed in thanks. He accepted and the show was over.
Putting this all down in words makes me realize how ridiculous the whole thing sounds. And the truth is, it was ridiculous. But it was ridiculously entertaining as well. It’s sad that Kanye West has gone from being one of the best producers in hip-hop to a cartoon character married to a reality tv star. But the truth is he is both of those things. Just because he doesn’t know how to manage himself in public (or maybe he does and it’s all some elaborate act), doesn’t mean he’s not insanely talented. If you can put aside the Person and focus on the Artist, I predict that it will be worth your effort. Trust me, I know things.
Send It Up
I Don’t Like (Chief Keef)
I Am a God
Can’t Tell Me Nothing
Hold My Liquor
I’m In It
Blood on the Leaves
Lost in the World
Speech about dreams, etc.
Through the Wire
Diamonds from Sierra Leone
All of the Lights