Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center, I saw a genius.
You might argue whether Kanye can be classified as such, but during his two-hour plus show, just like West himself said, there’s no other way to word it. I can’t remember the last time I went to a concert and spent hours after discussing just exactly what it all meant. This was more than a rap show, this was a full-fledged performance art piece.
After women in robes walked out to choral music, the incendiary Kanye from his recent masterpiece and (I’m saying it) one of the best hip-hop albums of all time, Yeezus, appeared. Opening with “On Sight,” he took the stage wearing a luchador-esque mask and bald eagle/American flag-draped clothes, before tearing through Yeezus’ finest moment, “New Slaves.” I can’t speak for the rest of the crowd, but it was cathartic to scream about private prisons and the modern day racism that plagues the country with a bunch of folks of all races. It’s the punkest thing to come out in years and something nobody on such a large scale is doing right now. (He also might possibly be America incarnate, though I could be looking a little too far.)
But just like the gospel sample in “On Sight”: “He’ll give us what we need, may not be what we want,” which is the best description of the public’s response to the new Kanye. It’s not really a surprise most people don’t want to hear about heavy shit; most want to hear songs they can dance and drink overpriced Bud Light Lime-A-Ritas to. This is fine of course, but if they open up their ears, they might learn something, which seems to be Ye’s mission right now. When Yeezus came out, it the was the number one album that week. The next week, it dropped 80 percent. Besides the massive set pieces and postponed/cancelled tour dates, ticket sales for this tour are disappointing at best. (Because of this, I got VIP tickets the day before for more than $100 cheaper than they originally sold for.)
Split up into four sections — Rising, Falling, Searching, and Finding, introduced by definitions of each word on a 60-foot screen — the show was structured to fit each part. For instance, during Rising (“Verb: rebel, revolt, mutiny, riot, a call to arms…”), he ran through hits like “Power,” songs from Cruel Summer, and more powerhouse Yeezus tracks like “Black Skinhead” and “I Am A God,” which wrapped up with West’s blood curdling screams echoing throughout the arena.
As the “ice”-covered ramp in the middle of the crowd lifted up, Kanye began to talk about the death of his mother, before performing 808s & Heartbreak’s “Coldest Winter,” a song he explained was written for her. He proceeded to sing the song lying on his back above the audience as it snowed from the rafters.
During the Falling section (“‘Who will give me wings,’ — I ask — ‘wings like a dove?’”), a snow creature crawled around the stage and onto the gigantic mountain. (Oh yeah, there was a gigantic mountain.) This was when it hit me: this is Kanye’s Empire Strikes Back. Not only are his clothes similar to the beige/gray future military uniform Luke wore on Hoth, not only is it snowing, not only is the giant screen showing a desolate land filled with wintry weather, there’s a goddamn Wampa! And just like Luke in the Wampa cave, Kanye was at his lowest point during the show, featuring breakup songs like “Heartless” and a killer version of “Blood On The Leaves.” (I originally thought I would unintentionally punch someone in the face when the beat came in, but I somehow stopped myself. I did however climb on the guardrail, before I got yelled at by security.)
The emotional high point of the night came in the middle of the Searching portion (“When you go looking for God, you won’t be let down…”) after a church procession brought out what looked like a tabernacle, though was really a sampler/synth. In the middle of the crowd noise, Kanye hit the first note of “Runaway” on the keyboard, which only heightened the crowd’s excitement. It’s one of the best breakup songs in recent memory, and Kanye sang along with the crowd before asking the band to vamp so he could not talk so much as preach.
It was here that Kanye poured his heart out about a number of things: meetings with “older people” who don’t like the direction he’s going in, how the radio and the media are controlling us, the Willie Lynch theory (where a slave was beaten publicly in front of a crowd to control him), which Kanye compared his constant bashing in the media and paparazzi too. But most of all, he was speaking as a man, trying to inspire his fans to be themselves, no matter what the consequences. It was a human side of Kanye that you don’t see too often in the press. He let his guard down, telling the young people in the crowd that they’re the ones who are gonna find the cure for cancer and AIDS. Maybe it was a little overwrought, but it was one of the most honest moments I’ve seen at a performance in a long time. For all of the “I Am A God” bravado and croissant demands, at heart he seems like a genuine dude and it got to me.
After the search was over, the final Finding section (“God arrives right on time.”) commenced with some classic hits — “Stronger,” “Through The Wire” —before Jesus a.k.a. “White Jesus” a.k.a. The Real Yeezus opened up the giant mountain and blessed Kanye, who finally took off his last diamond encrusted veil, knelt before Him, then dove right into “Jesus Walks.” Oh, did I mention there was a batshit crazy laser and fog show? ’Cause there was. The dance party continued with “Flashing Lights,” “Diamonds,” “Good Life,” and more. Though they put up with Wampas, women in bodysuits writhing around, and weird cathedral processions, this was what most of the crowd had been waiting for.
The show ended with “Bound 2,” the gentlest track on Yeezus and a perfect set closer. I rapped with people I’ve never met before and probably won’t meet again, because such is the power of Yeezus Christ. Kanye and his band of almost naked women filed out as White Jesus looked down from the mountain top. It was a fitting end.
So what did it all mean? What did the veils represent? What about all the religious symbolism? Is all the private prison bashing and Confederate flag re-appropriating chipping away at his career? (I’d like to think that’s the reason the media bashes him all the time to shut him up, but again, maybe that’s looking too deep.) Will this crazy artistic labor of love turn out successful?
All I know is that I loved every second of it and I spent the rest of the night dissecting what I had seen. Kanye did what no one else in music right now is, pushing the envelope before such a large audience. If you had the platform to speak to thousands of different people every night, what would you say? (Ye’s pal Jay-Z, Inc. sure as shit isn’t doing it, so I think we know once and for all who the real genius is between those two.) It’s unfortunate that he finally got the money to see his unique vision through and most of the audience was baffled. But for all the money he might lose on this tour, he’s making true fucking art on a massive spectrum. And even if just a handful “get it” every night, that’s who it’s for and they’re in for the ride of their lives.
Through all of the metaphors and intense race discussions, it was also a lot of fun. Because at heart, Kanye’s just a nerd who thinks lasers and fireworks and Star Wars are cool. And they are.
Basically, it was Kanye’s Empire Strikes Back. And we all know Empire was the best one.
Icepack Illustrated: Kroll, Starr, Thicke, etc.
If Icepack Illustrated looks a little short this week, it’s due to some physical health issues...
See Braille street art in its unnatural environment — a gallery
Back in August we wrote about Braille street art, the product of a special partnership between...
Huge horror-movie convention happening near Philly this weekend
In its 27th installment, Monster-Mania Con, one of the largest horror-film and memorabilia...